Karnataka Itinerary: how to spend 3 weeks in Karnataka

This post is a 3 week Karnataka itinerary. Karnataka’s tourist slogan is: “One state, many worlds”. It is indeed one of India’s most varied states. Palm-fringed beaches, jungles teeming with wildlife, ancient temple ruins and some of India’s most progressive cities. Karnataka has it all. 

With Goa to the north and Kerala to the South, many travellers simply pass through. Unaware of the beauty and adventure they are missing out on. This Karnataka itinerary doesn’t even include everything there is to see, but it does include the best that Karnataka has to offer.

A lot of temples in your Karnataka itinerary
Ancient temple in Bangalore

A 3 week Karnataka itinerary

This 3 week Karnataka itinerary includes nature, history and culture. Karnataka is South India’s largest state and therefore it is no surprise that there is so much to see and do. 

The Western ghats mountain range runs through the state, creating the perfect climate for coffee and spice plantations as well as dense green forests that are home to a number of wild animals including elephants and tigers.

In addition, Karnataka has a 280 kilometer long coastline full of small fishing villages and secluded beaches fringed with palm trees. Inlands you will find ancient temple ruins and modern cities. 

Day 1 – 2: Bangalore

You will start your Karnataka itinerary in Bangalore. Bangalore is famous as being the IT hub of India, also known as the Silicon Valley of India. It is one of India’s most liberal and trendy cities that attracts young people from all over India.

Bangalore is now one of the fastest growing urban areas, but it remains a very pleasant city to live in. Bangalore is also known as the Garden city of India. There are trees everywhere and beautiful parks and gardens to relax in. 

Being such a multicultural and dynamic city, Bangalore is also a great food destination. Here you can find food from everywhere in India, but the specialties from Karnataka are the best. You will even find pubs and beer breweries in Bangalore. 

One day in Bangalore should be enough to see the few historic sights and enjoy some of the city’s best culinary highlights

Accomodation: Locul central is close to Cubbon Park and is a clean and professional hostel if you don’t mind staying in a dormitory. Locul uptown from the same owner is near Bangalore palace and has both dormitories as well as private rooms.

The best place to start your Karnataka itinerary is Bangalore
Flower market in Bangalore

Day 3 – 6: Hampi

From Bangalore you can take the night train to Hampi. Hampi, in the north of Karnataka was once the capital of the Vijayanagara empire. During its glory days in the 14th century it was a center of arts, culture, literature and philosophy and one of the richest cities of India. 

It was one of the last great Hindu kingdoms in the south.What remains is a large archeological site with over 1600 structures including forts, temples, shrines and palaces. The monuments of Hampi are a UNESCO World heritage site and remarkably well preserved.

Although the ancient temple ruins are the main attraction, Hampi has a beautiful landscape too. There are interesting rock formations and huge boulders and you can take a boat ride on the scenic Tungabhadra river. 

Hampi is the perfect place to relax for a couple of days with lots of backpackers accommodation. I would say you need at least 3 days in Hampi to see the most important archeological treasures. 

You can check out my post about the best places to visit in Hampi

Accomodation: the best place to stay in Hampi is a homestay. Homestays with good reviews in this area include Srinivasa homestayArjun homestay and Vinayaka homestay

Hampi is a highlight in your Karnataka itinerary

Day 6 – 8: Gokarna

From Hampi you can take a convenient night train to Gokarna. The next stop on your Karnataka itinerary.

Gokarna is an important pilgrimage center on the coast of Northern Karnataka. A sleepy temple town with a relaxed atmosphere that is increasingly popular as a beach destination too.

And Gokarna has plenty of beaches to choose from. Some of them are so remote that they can only be accessed on foot or by boat. Names like paradise beach and half moon beach indicate the beauty of the tranquil waters of the Arabian sea and the palm-fringed sandy beaches. 

One of the highlights in Gokarna is the Golden trail. An 8 kilometer hiking path that connects the different beaches in Gokarna. It’s an adventurous trail that requires climbing over rocky terrain and boulders, interspersed with scenic stretches along the beach with wonderful views over the ocean.  

Part of the charm of Gokarna is that it is still relatively unknown among foreign travellers. There are enough hotels, restaurants and yoga retreats, but it doesn’t feel crowded. For many, Gokarna is a more quiet and peaceful alternative to Goa.

You can check out my post about the best places to visit in Gokarna

Accomodation: 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. 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.

Gokarna beach
Gokarna beach

Day 9 – 11: Udupi

For even more remote and secluded beaches where you are likely to be the only foreigner around you can head further south. Udupi is another sleepy temple town that attracts hundreds of pilgrims. A tour of the Udupi Krishna temple is a must wghen visiting this area.  

Udupi and nearby Mangalore aren’t the most beautiful cities, but they are famous throughout India for their delicious food. Mangalorean cuisine is known for its fried masala fish and spicy curries flavoured with tamarind and coconut. The Udupi thali is a set meal of mouthwatering vegetarian curries. 

The food and its beautiful beaches make this a great stop in your Karnataka itinerary before you explore more of southern Karnataka.

Accomodation: In Mangalore I can recommend Rahul Residency or Urban Retreat Homestay

Beach near Udupi in Karnataka, India
Beach near Udupi

Day 11 – 13: Belur & Halebid

One of the highlights of your Karnataka itinerary in the south will be Belur and Halebid. Belur and Halebid are some of the oldest and most impressive temples in Karnataka. Intricate carvings and ornate details is what makes these Hoysala temples so beautiful.

The Hoysalas ruled much of South India before the Vijayanagara empire and their temples are thus even more old than those in Hampi. Belur and Halebid were both once the capital of the vast Hoysala empire and they offer the best examples of their unique temple art. 

Belur is the oldest temple and it took 103 years to complete. The result is one of the most intricately carved structures in all of India. Halebid has the largest temple and is equally stunning.  

Belur and Halebid are best visited from the scenic hill station of Chikmagalur that is famous for its coffee plantations and waterfalls. 

Accomodation: There are not a lot of options to stay in Belur or Halebid itself. They are also not very good value for money. I would recommend staying in the scenic hill station of Chikmagalur. I slept at the clean and professional Chalukya comforts in the center of the city.  If you have your own transport you can also opt for one of the homestays close to nature such as blue bell homestay

The Belur and Halebid temples
Belur and Halebid temples

Day 14 – 18: Mysore

Bangalore might be the capital in Karnataka, but Mysore remains its cultural heart. The kingdom of Mysore has always been an important center of art and culture in southern India. First it was a vassal state from the Vijayanagara empire, but they increasingly got more power and eventually ruled most of Karnataka. 

THe kingdom of Mysore was ruled by the Wodeyar family. THey fought several wars including several wars against the British. Even after they lost they kept certain royal privileges as a princely state. Up till this day the Wodeyars play an important role in politics. 

Mysore still is a city full of royal palaces, colonial mansions and elegance. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful cities in Southern India. The age old traditional crafts of Mysore include silk weaving, sandal wood carving, rosewood inlay, sandal soap making and the famous Mysore paintings. 

Mysore has lots of interesting day trips too. For example, you can visit the former capital of Srirangapatna, the Ranganathittu bird sanctuary, the ancient Hoysala temple at Somnathpur and the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe.

Accomodation: In Mysore I can recommend Mansion 1907. Most of all because of its great location near the bus station, Mysore palace and Devaraja market. This hostel has friendly owners, a great breakfast menu and female only dorms. During the tourist season they have free yoga classes in the morning and you can rent bicycles to explore Mysore and its surroundings. There are other hostels in Mysore as well such as Zostel and Roambay hostel.

Mysore Palace
Mysore palace

Day 19 – 21: BR Hills

With no less than 5 national parks and 18 wildlife sanctuaries, Karnataka is a great place for wildlife spotting and going on a jungle safari. In fact, Karnataka has the largest population of elephants in India as well as a large number of wild cats such as leopards and tigers. 

Nagarhole and Bandipur National Park are the most popular wildlife destinations, but the safari lodges don’t come cheap here. BR Hills is less known and a more budget friendly destination. The BR Hills is where the Western ghats meets the eastern ghats forming a unique ecosystem. 

The result is a rich flora and fauna with species from both areas coming together, creating an ecological hotspot of incredible biodiversity. The animals are shy and difficult to spot in the dense forests, but you can feel and hear they are never far away. It’s easy to spot birds and deers and with a bit of luck you might see a wild elephant

Accomodation: Nagarhole and Bandipur are the most popular places for a wildlife safari. In Bandipur Dhole’s den is a very good option. BR hills is a more budget friendly safari destination. One of my top recommendations in BR Hills is the Gorukana Resort. They offer eco cabins and a tree house in the forest. 

Elephants in BR Hills, Karnataka, India
Elephants in BR Hills

Sustainable Travel in Karnataka

Karnataka is a beautiful state, but to preserve its national parks and nature, it is important to be aware of the possible negative impacts mass tourism can have. Traveling sustainably in Karnataka, involves conscious choices that minimize your environmental impact and support the local community. Luckily, Karnataka itself has lots of community-based and eco-tourism initiatives.

Support the local community: You can support the community by purchasing goods and services from local vendors, artisans, markets and restaurants. It is better to try South Indian cuisine that uses local ingredients rather than imported foreign foods. South Indian food is very vegetarian friendly and it is easy to follow a vegan diet.

Stay in small scale sustainable hotels: It is also better to stay in locally-owned guesthouses or homestays to support the local economy directly. These accommodations often have a more positive impact on the environment compared to large hotels.

Karnataka has a number of community based tourism initiatives with excellent homestays. Where possible, I can recommend staying in a homestay for an authentic cultural experience. You might want to bring a small book with pictures of your family to break the ice.

You can also try to look for guesthouses or homestays that prioritizes sustainable practices. That said, environmental awareness is still low. It’s up to you to use water sparsely, turn off lights, air conditioning, and heating when leaving your accommodation.

Use public transport: Karnataka has a well-developed public transportation system with trains and buses. Opt for public transport, whenever possible, instead of private cars to reduce carbon emissions.

Leave no trace principle: I encourage you to take all your trash back with you when you go on a safari in Karnataka’s beautiful nature or hike its hills and dispose of it responsibly. In other words, leave no trace of your visit. Even better is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.

To avoid single-use plastics, invest in reusable items. For example, you can bring your own water bottle with a filter. At last, use biodegradable and eco-friendly personal care products to minimize pollution of water sources.

Respect the culture: Besides environmental concerns it is also important to respect the culture. Karnataka is a state with a Hindu majority that is just opening up to tourism. Therefore, learn about the local customs and traditions beforehand and be mindful of your behavior.

People will appreciate it, if you dress modestly, especially at religious sites. Learning a few basic phrases in Kannada, can go a long way in building meaningful connections and to learn more about the local culture. Not everybody is happy to have their picture taken. When in doubt, ask permission.

For more practical travel information you can check out my Backpacking Karnataka travel guide

If you are interested in other states you can check out my Kerala itinerary and Rajasthan itinerary

Disclaimer: This post with a Karnataka itinerary contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!

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