Planning a trip to the dazzling and complex Indian subcontinent can be an intimidating task. Our advice? Dip into the country’s diverse cultures on a trip with a trusted, topnotch operator, who can sort everything from accommodation and transport down to nailing your dinner order. Below, we’ve rounded up the best tours of India for every type of traveller.
Best for first-time visitors
A fabulous introduction to a kaleidoscopic country, Abercrombie & Kent’s 14-day Taj Mahal and the Treasures of India tour is full of pinch-me moments. Along with catching golden hour at the Taj Mahal and exploring Jaipur, the Pink City, groups of up to 18 will search for Bengal tigers on a private safari, get a glimpse into rural life in the Rajasthani countryside and witness an aarti ceremony in the sacred city of Varanasi, where devout pilgrims sing, bathe and light tiered lamps on the banks of the Ganges.
Accommodation options are equally spectacular. Think a gilded 18th-century palace on Udaipur's tranquil Lake Pichola and Pashan Garh lodge, 12 luxe stone cottages set on 80 hectares of jungle adjoining Panna National Park.
Best for lovers of luxury
On trips with Greaves Tours, guests are guaranteed all the bells and whistles, from complimentary snacks to chauffeur-driven transfers. But on the 12-day tour of Rajasthan’s boutique palaces and forts, you’ll live like royalty. Unwind with an Ayurvedic massage at the stately Imperial New Delhi hotel, take in sweeping views of Jaipur from the hilltop Amber Fort and join a yoga class by the pool at The Serai, a lavish camp in the Thar Desert.
Naturally, you’ll be staying in next-level hotels like Jaipur’s blush-tinted Rajmahal Palace, replete with 13 vibrantly decorated rooms and suites, three restaurants plating up both Indian and international cuisines, immaculately manicured gardens and an Art Deco-style pool.
Best for families
Previous guests have raved about the breadth (the Taj Mahal! Agra Fort! Rickshaw rides!), pace (action-packed but not exhausting), authentic meals (14 included with optional extras), group size (maximum of 16) and knowledgeable local guides on Intrepid’s 10-day Northern India Family Holiday, open to ages five and up.
Kid-friendly highlights include spotting leopards, crocodiles and antelope on a game drive through Ranthambore National Park and exploring UNESCO-listed Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, an 18th-century observatory that resembles a collection of giant abstract sculptures. At night, you’ll bed down in hotels suited to families, such as the colourful Hotel Mahal Khandela, which has a swimming pool.
SEE ALSO: The Himalayan Hike With No Crowds
Best for exploring Southern India
Go beyond the Golden Triangle on TripADeal’s tour of Southern India, a nine-day itinerary that takes groups of up to 20 from buzzing Bangalore – known as The Garden City for its pockets of lush greenery – to the multi-coloured Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Chennai and seemingly endless Marina Beach, the second longest in the world.
The package covers international flights, accommodation, seven breakfasts and a scenic train ride between Mysore and Chennai, making it not only a foolproof way to book a holiday but a savvy decision in terms of value.
Best for wildlife buffs
Not for the faint-hearted, Voygr’s 12-day expedition in India’s northern region of Ladakh involves trekking craggy Himalayan peaks in search of wild snow leopards. You’ll acclimatise for a few days in Leh, visiting medieval Tibetan monasteries and snacking on plump momo dumplings at the Grand Dragon Hotel, before heading to a private camp in Hemis National Park, a collection of central-heated tents furnished with king-sized beds, tables and rugs.
A locally owned operation, conservation is front of mind. Hikes and 4WD adventures are run at a respectful distance to the wildlife, expeditions are carbon negative and 20 per cent of profits are donated to conservation efforts. Tours run from November to April with groups capped at 10 guests. All meals and return domestic flights from Delhi are included, as is an expert guide.
Best for a romantic escape
Ideal for honeymooners with wedding-decision fatigue, anniversaries or couples simply looking to get away from it all, Black Tomato’s tour of Rajasthan and the Andaman Islands delivers romance in spades. Each trip is private and tailored to your preferences but the suggested 14-day itinerary kicks off with a week exploring western Indian landmarks such as Jodhpur’s magnificent Mehrangarh Fort and the temple-dotted slopes of the Aravalli Range, staying in opulent hotels and plush glamping tents along the way.
Then it’s on to the picture-perfect Andaman Islands, a remote archipelago in the north-eastern Indian Ocean where powder-white sand, crystalline water and a secluded villa at the Taj Exotica Resort await.
Image credits: Black Tomato, Abercrombie & Kent, Rajmahal Palace RAAS, Intrepid, TripADeal, Voygr