7 Unique and Cheap Places to Stay in India

We fell in love with India during our three months there. Between the food, the chaos, the colours, the welcoming people and the constant challenge, the stunning scenery, tranquil temples and unexpected events – cows stopping traffic and the serenade on a canoe – it’s impossible to pinpoint a single reason why.

One thing that does remain with us are the places we stayed, especially the homestays with Indian families. These weren’t just a place to sleep, they were a friendly welcome and an insight into the culture. Some of them offered us wonderful home-cooked food, others a peaceful retreat from the stresses of Indian travel.

All of them offered something unique, and for a very reasonable price.

Greenpalm Homestay, near Alleppey, Kerala

Meeting locals in the Kerala Backwaters

Meeting locals in the Kerala Backwaters

In a year of travel, this was our favourite place by an Indian mile. The Keralan Backwaters are a huge network of rivers, canals and lakes that create remote island villages, accessible only by boat, with no roads and only ancient canoes for transportation.

Set into this blissfully quiet and relaxing location is Greenpalm Homestay, an exceptional gem in this natural jewellery shop. Thomas offers many interesting activities – walks around the village to meet the locals and drink chai at rickety shacks, bike rides to explore further afield, and hikes through paddy fields.

But our favourite memory was the sunset canoe ride to the toddy shop, a backwaters pub where we sampled the local coconut sap brew before being serenaded with folk songs on the moonlit journey home.

The home-cooked food is delicious, fresh and plentiful with rice straight from the family’s own paddy fields. The rooms are very comfortable with private bathrooms and A/C if you want it.

Rooms cost from INR 1,750 – 3,250 (US$37-70) depending on the comfort of the room. This is for two people in a double with three meals a day. Cheaper rooms may be available for those on a tighter budget, just ask Thomas. Book at greenpalmhomes.com.

Beena Homestay, Fort Kochi, Kerala

At this wonderful homestay near the centre of Fort Kochi you feel like part of the family. Beena and her husband are welcoming and go out of their way to help: they are happy to provide information and book activities. Breakfast and dinner is included and is delicious and plentiful – however hard you try, your plate never empties! The rooms are simple but clean and comfortable with private bathrooms and there are a number of communal areas to relax in.

Prices range from INR 600 to 1500 ($13- $32) depending on the time of year and whether you choose a fan or A/C room. Book at homestaykochi.com.

Houseboat, Kerala

Kerala Houseboat, India

Kerala Houseboat, India

OK, so this isn’t exactly cheap but it’s definitely unique and worth the splurge. Spending the night on your own private houseboat floating through the backwaters of Kerala is a blissful experience. All worries disappear as you sit back and drift past riverbanks lined with coconut trees, verdant paddy fields, and colourful lotuses. You get a glimpse into traditional village life: women in colourful saris washing their clothes in the river and fishermen in lunghis launching their nets.

The boats are handmade kettuvallam, rice barges that were once used for cargo transportation but have been converted for tourists with comfortable lounging areas. Meals are provided and are a good chance to sample Kerala’s delicious cuisine: our lunch featured nine different dishes.

Most houseboat trips start from Alleppey and these are the cheapest but the most crowded. We found the Kollam – Alleppey route quieter. An overnight trip costs INR 6000 – 12,000 (US$123-247) for a two bedroom boat. There’s no need to book in advance, and you’ll be in a better bargaining position if you book when you get there. For more information see this Kerala Houseboats Guide.

Shanthi Guesthouse, Hampi

Shanthi Guesthouse, Hampi, India

Shanthi Guesthouse, Hampi

Hampi is a huge area of ancient ruins and temples set amongst a vast landscape of impossibly stacked boulders. Shanthi Guesthouse is where we enjoyed the best sunsets of our lives. It’s located across the river from Hampi village, so it takes a while to get to the ruins, but it’s worth it for the serene environment and wonderful views.

The round huts are simple with swing seats on the verandahs. The chilled-out restaurant has cushions on the floor for lounging and amazing views overlooking the green rice paddy fields, swaying palm trees and the boulder landscape beyond. This is the best place to lay back and enjoy the stunning sunsets.

Huts cost INR 650 – 1200 (US$14-25) depending on the view. Book at shanthihampi.com.

Shaam-e-Sarhad Village Resort, Hodka, Gujurat

dining_area_shaam_e_sarhad, hodka

Dining area of Shaam-e-Sarhad, Hodka

If you want to get off the beaten track then head to the Kutch area of Gujurat. Bhuj is a great base but it’s worth heading out further afield to explore rural life. At Shaam-e-Sarhad you can choose between comfortable tents and beautiful Bhunga – circular mud huts decorated with colourful designs, in stark contrast to the dusty, thorny desert landscape.

The idea is to interact with people from the host village Hodka, but we found this difficult as no-one spoke much English. It is still an interesting experience though and a highlight was a performance by local folk musicians around the campfire. The vegetarian Gujurati food is delicious.

A double room including all meals cost INR 1800 (US$38). Book at hodka.in.

Devjibhai’s Kooba Eco Tour Camp, Little Rann, Gujurat

Wild Ass at Little Rann Sanctuary, Gujurat

Wild Ass at Little Rann Sanctuary, Gujurat

The Little Rann of Kutch is a salt marsh and little visited sanctuary for the endangered Asiatic wild ass, and a good place to spot birdlife including flamingos. Due to sickness we didn’t make it out to the sanctuary but still enjoyed this tranquil place and could see the wild ass from the camp.

This eco camp features a few comfortable but simple Kooba (mud huts) with bathrooms but no electricity. It’s run by Devjibhai Dhamecha, a knowledgeable naturalist who has fought hard for the conservation of the area, and his family. As always the home-cooked food is a highlight.

It costs INR 2000 (US$42) in a double hut for two people including all meals. Book at littlerann.com.

Sand Dunes, Thar Desert, Rajasthan

Sand dunes, Thar Desert, India

Sand dunes, Thar Desert

Riding a camel is not as comfortable as one might think – our two day camel safari became quite painful after just a few hours – but it was all worth it when we reached our bed for the night.

The magnificent, untouched sand dunes glowed red as the sun set, and after dinner around the camp fire we settled down under the stars (and some thick blankets) to sleep. It may not be easy, but it certainly was an experience to remember.

You can easily organise a camel safari from Jaisalmer. Quality and comfort varies but rates start from INR 400 per day (US$9).

Trail Wallet

Leave a comment and share your favourite places to stay in India.

54 thoughts on 7 Unique and Cheap Places to Stay in India

  1. Great post! We had some friends who stayed on a houseboat and highly recommended it. Did you find that you felt sick at all? (I’d love to do it, but I seem to be prone to sea sickness).

    Your photos are lovely. I can’t wait to visit India!

    • The water is very very calm, so there is no problem with sickness. I get travel sick but had no problems at all on the houseboat. It’s a lovely relaxing experience.

      • Hi guys, I am planning a trip to India hopefully the next few weeks but would love to be able to chat so I feel better knowing what I am getting into and some suggestions on making my itinerary better.
        I would like to try some home stays also.
        Let me know how we can contact each other if you would.

  2. It looks so amazing! I can close my eyes and imagine that I m there.
    Not to forget the fact that India is an “energetic field”, a spiritual place where you can find yourself. Durind my life I want to go in India, Egypt and some other few countries – as soon as I can!

    • There are many people that find themselves in India. Lots of people attend ashrams, but for us just chilling in the backwaters was enough.

  3. India looks like an amazing place to travel and the costs seem very reasonable when compared to other locations. I’m in for one of those houseboat trips. That looks like fun.

  4. You guys always seem to find some amazing places to stay no matter where you go! The Backwaters are one of my favorite areas of India as well, especially when I need a break from the intensity of the rest of the country. It’s an entirely different world down there!

    • Erin has to take credit for finding the cool places. I probably shouldn’t admit this on a travel blog, but most of the time I have no idea where I am, let alone where I’m going. Sadly, this doesn’t just apply to geography.

      However, I do know what I like and, along with nachos, I love all of those places and can’t wait to go back. I would agree with you, though, if India was a plate of spicy corn chips, then Kerala would have to be the melty cheese on top.

  5. This post is just what I needed! I will look into those Kerala homestays and am so relieved to hear you can book the houseboats once in India. Thank you :)

    • Glad it was helpful Jane. It’s very easy and cheaper to book your houseboat when you arrive. We just turned up at the jetty the day before.

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  7. A low impact eco-lodge in Rajasthan worth a look is Apani Dhani Eco-Lodge. A beautiful tranquil setting with a local family where you stay in traditional huts with mud-rubbed walls, thatched roof and earthy colours. They offer a 5% room rate for community projects, but normally charge around 850 rupees a night.
    It’s located in Sikar, between Bikaner and Jodhpur.

  8. Great post, it’s amazing! India is a great place to travel, in India I like Kerala. The houseboat experience is great. The spectacular beauty of Kerala’s backwaters needs no introduction. A Kerala Houseboats cruise along the palm-fringed waterways of Kerala in luxury houseboats is the most enchanting holiday experience in India today.

  9. My favourite place was the Millenium Monastery in Tabo, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh. The trip from Delhi is very long. You can go via Manali or via Shimla. I went twice and would go back now if I could. One of the most spiritual places I ever experienced in my life.

  10. I’ve been to McLeod Ghanj and its awesome. I’m hitting Kerala sooner or later so this post is very useful. Thanks guys

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  12. Thanks Guys,
    Invaluable help!! Arrive Goa 25th Feb 2012 so now have some great places to stay from there down to kerala.Homestay’s exactly what I had envisaged and the house boat will be such a treat.
    Again Many Thanks
    Annie (Jan Juc,Victoria,Australia)

  13. Thanks Erin for posting such a valuable article…. You have done a thorough research on these destinations….helpful information,especially about the homestays in Kerala..

  14. Hi, one of my dreams is to visit India, at the moment, my girlfriend and I are just researching the web looking for inspirations. Your article contains very helpful information and it is very inspiring. Maybe next year we will have the opportunity to visit and write about this incredible and beautiful place.
    Ciao

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  16. hi, i m planning to do camel safari in rajsthan. so can u help me to give some information about the tour operators?

    Regards

  17. Great information! I am going to Delhi In November and only for a short time…any thoughts about unique places to stay in and around??

  18. Hi Erin,

    Indeed India is a good and worth place to visit. just to add to this there is a state called Maharashtra… this has got a wide culture diversity.As i stay here and i am also a travellor like you all, i can understand from a travellor point of view. I am more into hiking….i like to explore the virgin places so go for various hikes….
    Also Himalaya is a devine place….do try it out….

    regards,
    DK

  19. Very Nice places you have mentioned here..
    You could also checkout Karnataka state in the southern part of India. I am sure you will like it.
    Look ate the excellent sculpures at the Belur and Halebidu temples. its close to Bangalore.

  20. Hello!

    You write so well about your travels, a delight to read!

    I just wondered if you could give any input on travelling overnight one way from Kollam to Allepey in a houseboat. We’re two friends planning a week in Kerala. This is currently the part of the journey I’m confused with. We’re travelling from Varkala to Kollam Junction by train arriving by 9am so that we can visit Munroe Island by canoe as reccomended. My concern is that I’m not sure what time we’ll return from there and whether there will remain any houseboats for us to travel in. Ideally I’d like to set off around 1pm and 2pm so we can see the beautiful surroundings before it gets too dark or do you think we’ll pass the beautiful sights later on when it’s got too dark? It seems that the journey is only 8 hours, when you travelled overnight, did you explore more areas? Also some sites have suggested to arrive the night before to book a houseboat for the next day, this isn’t possible for us.

    I hope the above makes sense to you!

    • I’m not sure to be honest. Most houseboats start earlier than that. The problem will be wasting time trying to find one so you could book one in advance to save time. I’m afraid I don’t know any operators as we just booked on the day. You might need to skip the canoe trip and start the houseboat trip earlier. As others have said it’s best to arrive the night before. Good luck with it.

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  22. i would recommend to visit Kerala during monsoon ( between July and September) best places are munnar, kottayam kumarakam back waters, allapey, also to try visit dubai from kerala air fares are really cheap from Cochin. tips always carry enough water to drink, take mosquito repellents cream, you can get cheap cabs or buy motor cycle (very cheap)
    P.S India is not a safe place for woman to travel alone, if you go in a group its highly recommended
    best wishes

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