Places to visit in Gokarna: India’s beach paradise
This post is a travel guide about the best places to visit in Gokarna. Gokarna is one of India’s most upcoming destinations that is getting more popular every year. It is not hard to understand why with its laid back atmosphere, palm fringed sandy beaches and unspoiled nature.
Gokarna might be a sleepy little temple town in Karnataka, but is well worth a visit. In my opinion, Gokarna has some of the best beaches in India. Forget about Goa. If you want a quiet paradise to recover from India’s intense chaos come to Gokarna instead.
Despite the increase in tourism, Gokarna has kept its peaceful and quiet atmosphere. Even though the main places to visit in Gokarna are its beaches, there are other things to do as well. With important temples, hiking trails and some excellent yoga and meditation resorts, Gokarna has something for everyone.
The best places to visit in Gokarna
After I finished a health seminar for my studies in Manipal I was looking for a nice place to relax nearby. Someone recommended Gokarna.
Gokarna has no less than 6 picture perfect beaches. Some are so remote that they can only be accessed by boat or on foot. Others are close to the city and crowded with religious pilgrims. Obviously most people come to Gokarna to enjoy the sea, but if you are more adventurous or looking for spirituality, Gokarna has a lot to offer as well.
So what are the best places to visit in Gokarna? Of course this all depends on what you are looking for. For me, it was a peaceful and quiet place, and Gokarna delivers without doubt. However, I am also an active person. Again, Gokarna with its hiking opportunities and spiritual temples did not dissapoint.
Gokarna is a small town, but of great significance for Hindus. It is an important Hindu pilgrimage center and the temples in town attract hundreds of devotees from all over India.
Most pilgrims first go to the Maha Ganpati temple dedicated to Ganesh. Then they move on to the Mahabaleshwara temple dedicated to Shiva with a 1500 year old statue of lord Shiva. Other temples are the Bhadrakali temple and the Mahalassa temple.
Gokarna main beach
The main beach is the most important place to visit in Gokarna. Not because of its beauty, but because all pilgrims visiting the Maha Ganpati and Mahabeleshwar temple have to take a dip in the ocean before praying at the temple.
The temple ceremonies going on at the main beach are interesting to watch. However, it can be a bit crowded and unfortunately there is a lot of garbage. This makes the main beach not one of the most idyllic places to visit in Gokarna.
Logistics: the beach is right behind the Mahabeleshwar temple and a short hike from Gokarna town
Kudlee beach has the right mix of a scenic long stretch of sand that is far enough from everything to feel remote, but easy to acces and with a decent choice of restaurants and guesthouses. Although not the most picturesque beach, it is the best place to use as a base. Everything you need is nearby and during the day you can explore the other places to visit in Gokarna.
Logistics: The beach has a north and south entrance. The north entrance is a 30 minute walk from Gokarna town. The south entrance to the beach is a long tuk tuk drive over winding roads, but is within walking distance of Om beach.
Om beach was one of my favourite places to visit in Gokarna. Climbing one of the hills or rocky outcrops will clearly show you the om symbol that this beach is famous for. You will not be the only person around during the day, but it’s easy to escape the crowds as the beach is long enough to walk to some quiet corners at the end.
That makes this the best beach in Gokarna for those that love a beautiful palm fringed beach with enough facilities around. There are a few guesthouses and restaurants, but not as much as on Kudlee beach. This means that in the early mornings and late afternoons it is very quiet and serene.
Logistics: It is a 6 kilometer drive from town over winding roads with splendid views over the ocean. Alternatively, its a short hike from the southern entrance to Kudlee beach over the rocky cliff.
Half moon beach
The further south you go, the more secluded the beaches get. Half moon beach is no longer connected by road, but requires a scenic hike or a short boat ride from Om beach.
This is now the most quiet beach near Gokarna. There are only a few basic beach huts and restaurants. They only open in the tourist season that runs from november till february.
In my opinion this is the best place to visit in Gokarna for those that love solitude, because you will have the beach all to yourself. The only people that come here are those that have finished the Gokarna beach trail or those that come by boat.
There is absolutely nothing but sand and palm trees. It’s not for nothing that this beach is called paradise beach. There are no facilities so bring along everything you need.
Sustainable note: This beach is getting more and more popular and people now use it to camp here during the night. Unfortunately, they leave a lot of trash as well. Be a responsible traveller and don’t add your own trash. An even better idea is to help the environment with a clean up once you are there.
Belekan beach is the least visited beach of all, because it is the furthest from Gokarna. Most people use this to start the Gokarna beach trek in the early morning when it is just you and some fishermen. This beach is once again connected by road so you can ask a taxi to drop you there and walk back to Gokarna’s main beach.
Gokarna town has a small market with fresh fruits and vegetables. It is also a great place to buy souvenirs and has some nice local places to eat.
Things to do in Gokarna
Gokarna beach trek
If you love hiking you should consider the Gokarna beach trek. Also known as the Golden Trail. It is a moderate 8 kilometer path connecting Gokarna’s beaches with each other. From Gokarna’s main beach all the way to Paradise or Belekantan beach.
Most of the trek is along the shore of the Arabian sea with beautiful views on the ocean. There are also rocky and hilly stretches that requires a bit of climbing, but nothing too difficult.
Wear some sturdy sandals that can get wet, bring enough water and enjoy. Don’t forget sunscreen and a sunhat as well, because it can get warm and there is not a lot of shadow.
In Gokarna it is possible to go dolphin watching. Boat men are ready to take you out to the sea to spot dolphins in the early morning. You can arrange a boat on Gokarna’s main beach, Kudlee beach or Om beach. Your best chances to see dolphins are near Paradise beach.
Gokarna is also a great place to practise or learn more about yoga with a number of yoga retreats and yoga schools. At Kudlee beach you have the Namaste Yoga farm that is a good option for comfortable short and long term stays in Gokarna. The Shankar Prasad foundation offers free chanting sessions every morning and also basic accomodation in its spiritual center. For more proffesional courses you can take a look at the Shanti yoga school and the Shiva Darshan yoga school.
The best places to sleep in Gokarna
I think the best place to visit in Gokarna for accomodation options is Kudlee beach. It is tranquil, but still easy to reach and with enough facilities. It is also within walking distance from Om beach where you can take boats to the more remote places to visit in Gokarna.
I stayed in Uma garden tucked away in a quiet corner of Kudlee beach with huts overlooking the ocean. The huts are basic, but it is one of the cheapest options around and the location is great.
There is also the Zostel hostel near Gokarna town on the cliff overlooking Gokarna’s main beach and in walking distance from Kudlee beach. Zostel is a popular option and it’s best to make a reservation, especially during the weekends.
For backpackers there is HosteLIT with clean dormitories. It is the cheapest option in Gokarna and has good reviews, but the only downside is that it does not have a sea view. However, it is right in the centre of Gokarna town near the bus station and it is not far to walk to Kudlee beach.
Namaste Yoga Farm
The Namaste yoga farm is not necessarily a budget option, but it’s scenic location in a lush green garden at Kudlee beach make it well worth the price. You can even sleep in a tree house here. Especially if you like yoga, you will love this place.
The best places to eat in Gokarna
Unfortunately the culinary scene in Gokarna isn’t as good and varied as in Goa or Varkala. The restaurants can be a bit hit and miss, depending on the owners mood that day.
When I was there, the season was already at its end and most restaurants at Kudlee beach had a limited menu with food that was uninspiring.
The best option that consistently offered good food was namaste café at Om beach, making this beach the best place to visit in Gokarna for restaurant options. The Zostel hostel cafe also served great food.
Gokarna travel tips
The best time to visit Gokarna
The best time to visit Gokarna is from October till March when the weather is pleasant and dry. In April it starts to get increasingly hot and from June till September monsoon season brings rain.
In the off season most hotels and restaurants close down. Kudlee beach is the best beach in Gokarna if you visit during that time as there are some facilities that are open year round.
Safety in Gokarna
Gokarna is in general a safe place to visit and common precautions apply. For example, although petty theft is rare, it can happen and it is better not to leave your valuables unattended at the beach.
However, the biggest danger in Gokarna is getting a sunburn or getting bitten by mosquitoes. Bring enough sunscreen and insect repellent. The locally available odomos works perfect against mosquitoes.
Also remember that Gokarna is a temple town where a lot of religious pilgrims come. It’s appreciated if you are respectful of local traditions and culture.
With tourism increasing there is a developing drug trade in Gokarna. Being under influence does not only increase your chances of becoming the victim of a robbery it is also frowned upon by the local community.
solo female travel in Gokarna
For solo female travelers it is even more important to respect the local culture in Gokarna. It is better to wear a bathing suit rather than a bikini and when going into town it is best to dress modestly.
You might encounter some unwanted attention from men on the beach. Try to avoid walking alone at night and when you feel a man is following you, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
With this advice in mind there is no reason not to visit Gokarna as a solo female traveler.
Language in Gokarna
Gokarna is in Karnataka and the main language is Kannada written in it’s own alphabet. Kannada is a dravidian language related to Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam and very different from Hindi.
You can get by with english, especially if you stay in the more upmarket hotels or resorts. Elsewhere, the level of english is basic.
Money matters in Gokarna
There are a limited numbers of ATM’s in Gokarna town, but they sometimes run out of money. Make sure you bring enough cash with you when you visit Gokarna.
How to travel within Gokarna
To travel to all the places to visit in Gokarna you have three options to choose from.
Gokarna on foot
The first way to travel within Gokarna is on foot. I already mentioned the Gokarna beach trail with spectacular views. Furthermore, half moon beach and paradise beach are only accesible on foot or by boat.
Gokarna by boat
Another way to travel within Gokarna is by boat. This is the easiest way to travel between the different beaches in Gokarna.
Gokarna by tuk tuk
To walk from Gokarna town to Kudlee beach or Om beach is a 15 to 20 minute walk on the road without any shade. Tuk tuks are a good way to travel from Gokarna town to Kudlee beach and Om beach if you want to skip the walk.
Tuk tuks are also the best way to travel between the train station (10 kilometer out of town) and the centre of Gokarna. A tuk tuk should not cost more than 200 rupees.
How to get to Gokarna
Gokarna is the main beach destination in Karnataka state. It is relatively east to visit from either Goa, Bangalore and Mysore
Flying to Gokarna
The nearest airport is Mangalore or Dabolim in Goa (140 kilometers from Gokarna) .
Trains to Gokarna
Trains at the Konkan railway stop at or near Gokarna train station making the train a convenient way to travel to Gokarna.
Most trains stop at Ankola station 20 kilometers from Gokarna. From there you can either take a bus to Gokarna town or a taxi straight to your accomodation. Some trains do stop at the Gokarna train station in Gokarna town.
From Bangalore to Gokarna: the daily Karwar express takes between 16 and 17 hours and is the cheapest way to travel from Bangalore to Gokarna
From Goa to Gokarna: the Matsyaganda express and Maru sagar express take less than 2 hours from Goa to Gokarna. The Matsyaganda express stops at the Gokarna train station rather than the Ankola train station.
You can check time tables and book your tickets online directly through the Indian railways (IRCTC). Unfortunately this is not always a straightforward process. For a small extra fee you can use 12goAsia or Makemytrip.
The bus to Gokarna
There are frequent bus connections with Goa (4-5 hours), Mangalore (5-6 hours), Bangalore (10-11 hours) and Mysore (11-12 hours).
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