Periyar, India

One of India's largest national parks, the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (also known as the Periyar Tiger Reserve) occupies 925 square kilometres of the Cardamom Hills region of the Western Ghats. The majority of visitors come in the hope of seeing wild elephants – or a rare glimpse of a tiger – grazing the shores of the reserve’s reservoir. Daily safari boats ferry day-trippers around this sprawling, labyrinthine lake, where sightings are most likely at the height of the dry season in April. For the rest of the year, wildlife is less abundant than you might expect given Periyar’s overwhelming popularity.

The best travel tips for visiting Periyar

A few hours by road from the Keralan coastal cities and Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Periyar ranks among India’s busiest reserves, attracting thousands of visitors over holiday periods.

The park’s ageing infrastructure, however, has struggled to cope with the recent upsurge in numbers.

Most foreign visitors leave disappointed, not merely with the park, but also with its heavily commercialised surroundings and apparent paucity of wildlife.

That said, if you’re prepared to trek into the forest, Periyar can still be worth a stay.

Elephant, sambar, Malabar giant squirrel, gaur, stripe-necked mongoose and wild boar are still commonly spotted in areas deeper into the park, where birdlife is also prolific.

Another selling point is Periyar’s much-vaunted ecotourism initiative. Instead of earning their livelihoods through poaching and illegal sandalwood extraction, local Manna people are these days employed by the Forest Department to protect vulnerable parts of the sanctuary.

Schemes such as “Border Hiking”, “Tiger Trail” and “Jungle Scout” tours, in which visitors accompany tribal wardens on their duties, serve to promote community welfare and generate income for conservation work.

It’s also a lot cooler up here than down on the coast, and many foreign visitors are glad of the break from the heat.

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Periyar Park National, India © Shutterstock

Periyar Park National, India © Shutterstock

Best things to do in Periyar

From bamboo rafting to experiencing the wildlife sanctuary, here are the best things to do in Periyar.

#1 Look for elephants at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Centred on a vast artificial lake created by the British in 1895 to supply water to the drier parts of neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary lies at altitudes of between 900m and 1800m.

It is correspondingly cool: temperatures range from 15°C to 30°C.

The royal family of Travancore, anxious to preserve favourite hunting grounds from the encroachment of tea plantations, declared it a forest reserve, and built the Edapalayam Lake Palace to accommodate their guests in 1899.

Seventy percent of the protected area, which is divided into core, buffer and tourist zones, is covered with evergreen and semi-evergreen forest.

The tourist zone – logically enough, the part accessible to casual visitors – surrounds the lake, and consists mostly of semi-evergreen and deciduous woodland interspersed with grassland, both on hilltops and in the valleys.

# 2 Head downstream on a bamboo rafting trip

By far the best option for wildlife viewing from the lake is to sign up for one of the Forest Department’s excellent bamboo rafting trips.

The rafts carry four or five people and, because they’re paddled rather than motor-driven, can approach the lakeshore in silence, allowing you to get closer to the grazing animals and birds.

Note that during busy periods places sell out quickly, so reserve as far ahead as possible.

Although boat tours are considerably less expensive than bamboo rafting trips, they can come as a disappointment.

It’s unusual to see many animals – engine noise and the presence of dozens of other people make sure of that.

Periyar bamboo rafting, India © Shutterstock

Periyar bamboo rafting, India © Shutterstock

#3 Walk and trek freely around the fringes of Periyar

Although you can – leeches permitting – trek freely around the fringes of Periyar, access to the sanctuary itself on foot is strictly controlled by the Forest Department.

Their community-based ecotourism programme offers a variety of structured walking tours, ranging from short rambles to three-day expeditions, all guided by local Manna tribal wardens.

Best areas to stay in Periyar

From tranquil Kumily to the scenic locales inside Periyar itself, there are plenty of accommodation options locally.


As beds inside the wildlife sanctuary are in short supply, most visitors to Periyar stay in nearby Kumily, a typical High Range town, centred on a hectic roadside market, 1km or so north of the main park entrance (known as Thekkady).

Kumily has accommodation to suit all pockets, with a number of small homestay guesthouses on the fringes of the village offering particularly good value.

Inside Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

The three KTDC-run hotels inside the park are either ludicrously expensive or shabby, or both.

The forest department has a decent campsite, just beyond Vallakkadavu checkpoint; they also offer camping inside the park on their “Tiger Trail” trek (contact the ecotourism centre).

Browse the best hotels in Periyar.

Best restaurants and bars

The only place to eat locally of any note is in Kumily.

There is a selection of Indian restaurants and cafes dotted along the 186 road. There's also a clutch of small restaurants and cafes vying for tourist custom close to the Periyar National Park Ticket Office.

Periyar's elephant, India © Shutterstock

Periyar's elephant, India © Shutterstock

How to get around

From guided walks to public buses, it is easy to get around Periyar. Here’s how to do it.

By bus

The state-run Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) operates regular bus services that connect various towns and villages in and around Periyar.

By auto-rickshaws

Tuk-tuks are readily available in Periyar and are often used to get travellers between Kumily and the park.

On foot

Periyar is a beautiful place to explore on foot, especially within the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and the surrounding villages.

What is the best time to visit Periyar?

The best time to visit is between December and April, when the dry weather draws animals from the forest to drink at the lakeside. Alse read our article about the weather in Kerala in December.

This period offers pleasant weather with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 32°C (59°F to 90°F), making it ideal for outdoor activities and wildlife spotting.

The monsoon season, from June to September, brings heavy rainfall to the region, which enhances the lush greenery but may limit certain activities.

However, some visitors also enjoy the off-season from March to May when the weather is hot but the sanctuary is less crowded, providing a more serene and intimate experience.

Find out more about the best time to visit India.

How many days do you need in Periyar?

To fully appreciate the natural beauty and wildlife of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as partake in activities like jungle safaris, boat rides, and nature walks, a stay of at least 2 to 3 days is recommended.

This duration allows for a comprehensive exploration of the sanctuary, leisurely walks through spice plantations, and the opportunity to experience the local culture.

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How to get here

As the closest train station to Periyar is Kottayam, most visitors will arrive by bus or private taxi.

By bus

There are daily buses from Kottayam that take around 3 hours.

By auto-rickshaws

Auto-rickshaws will run you from Kumily to the visitor centre inside the park, stopping at the park entrance at Thekkady where you can pay the reserve fee.

Find out the best ways to get to India.

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Andy Turner

written by
Andy Turner

updated 06.02.2024

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