IMPORTANT NOTE: Less than a week after we left Hampi in early December 2017, we learned that another round of demolitions were ordered in Hampi Bazaar. We still want to memorialize our experience, and we apologize that some of the information below is no longer accurate. Please see the end of this post for more details.
What is there to say about this place that hasn’t already been said? It’s been a perennial favorite of backpackers and slow travelers for generations. We rapidly fell in love with its charm and serenity. We extended our stay to the last possible minute and it still wasn’t enough - if it wasn’t for the appeal of Thailand looming on the horizon, we might have never left.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with this magical, mystical place, here’s a primer. Hampi is a small village in Karnataka state in South India that is famous for these stunning, well-preserved, incredibly intricate temple ruins from the Vijayanagara Empire, a wealthy empire that ruled this area in the 14th century. The landscape is also a huge draw - giant red boulders dot the landscape and it makes the whole place look like some sort of terraformed Mars. It’s unbelievably beautiful, and it’s like nowhere else in India.
We got to Hampi via overnight train from Mysore, and for once our train was actually on time! It was an actual miracle and totally set the tone for the week. Technically, the train station serving Hampi is in a village called Hospet, and from there it’s about 15kms to Hampi. We were able to score an autorickshaw ride to Hampi Bazaar (the main area) for Rs. 100, which seemed like one of those too-good-to-be-true deals until our driver dropped us off right in front of our guesthouse with zero issues. I saw other people at the train station bargaining down from double that price so I guess we just got lucky.
In Hampi, there are two different areas you can stay in. I had some trouble understanding this from other blog posts I read on the topic, so I will try to clarify. You can either stay in Hampi Bazaar OR across the river, which is literally just referred to as “the other side of the river.” Even when you’re on that side, it’s still called ‘the other side’ - everyone will know what you’re talking about. Some people also call it Hampi Island, Hippie Island or Anegundi, although Anegundi is actually a village a few kilometers away.
We stayed in Hampi Bazaar, or rather, what’s left of it. A few years back, Hampi Bazaar was apparently full of tons of little guesthouses and restaurants but apparently the government has demolished many businesses and homes, evicting families and uprooting locals. Nowadays, you can still see the gutted foundations of what used to be the heart of the bazaar, although there are still a fair amount of guesthouses and shops in the little side streets of the village leading down to the river. I don’t know what it was like before the demolition, but what’s left of Hampi still has a lot of character. Please see the end of this post for important information.
Our guesthouse was called Kalyan. I was nervous about booking it because it didn’t have any reviews on TripAdvisor but it ended up being fantastic. I think it was around Rs. 1400/night with A/C, so it was very reasonably priced. It was at the end of a street next to a pen full of baby goats that must have been owned by the neighbors. They were so cute, constantly baaa-ing for their moms, and at night when the big grown-up goats would come in from their pasture they would run to each other and cuddle! I literally shed tears watching this happen each day, it was so precious (I’m not crazy, stop looking at me like that). It took everything in me not to steal all the baby goats and smother them in love (again, I swear I am a sane person).
A lot of people recommend staying on the other side of the river, and we had originally planned to do a split stay with a few nights on each side, because each side has its own unique vibe. In the end, though, we liked our guesthouse in the Bazaar and found crossing the river to be a pain. To get to the other side, you have to take a tourist boat across the river, which costs Rs. 20 each way. The boats seem to operate at the whim of the driver and they don’t run on a consistent schedule, so if it’s a slow day you could be waiting an hour or more in the boat for it to fill up before crossing. It’s silly, but not a big deal - we just chalked it up to another quirk of India. In the evenings, the last boat is at 5:30 p.m. so you can’t stay on the other side after sundown, which was a bummer, but we survived.
Still, despite the fact that we didn’t get to see the other side after dark, we didn’t feel like we were missing out on much. The vast majority of the ruins and tourist sights are on the main (Bazaar) side, and like I said you need transportation to see them - other than the few ruins and the temple right in the Bazaar, it’s not possible to walk to them.
Fortunately, transportation in Hampi is really cheap and plentiful. There are tons of rickshaw drivers around who accost you with offers of sightseeing, and if you don’t want to drive yourself around it’s worth bargaining a day rate with one of the drivers. We never did that, though, so I can’t offer any insider tips but you should definitely clarify what’s included upfront and don’t take any detours to shops, etc.
The real way to see Hampi, though, is by motorbike or scooter. You can rent motorbikes all over the Bazaar as well as on the other side of the river (although you have to keep to that side - the rental shops won’t let you cross the river with their bikes). It’s cheap - like Rs 250-300 per day, but it’s very informal and they DEFINITELY don’t insure their bikes, so make sure your travel insurance covers motorbikes before you even think about renting!
We saw a lot of first-time drivers here, although personally we feel like India isn’t a great (or safe) place to learn this skill, even in a sparsely populated area like Hampi where the roads are relatively clear. Alex has a lot of experience driving motorbikes and I don’t, so we only rented one and I just rode on the back, enjoyed the view, and tried not to think about how matted my hair was getting from the wind. That being said, Alex did teach me how to drive a scooter one afternoon on an isolated dirt road, but it didn’t go so well…I definitely need practice!
There are so many ruins to explore in and around Hampi that you could stay for weeks and not see them all. We visited some of the bigger ones - Vittala Temple is probably the most famous one, this is where the famous stone chariot is located as well as some of the more photogenic ruins. We also visited the Queen’s Bath and a number of other ruins on the road between Hampi and Vittala.
Vittala Temple was easily our favorite of all the ruins, because it is enormous and so atmospheric. We had to park our bike and then walk a kilometer or so down a dirt path to get to the entryway, and as soon as we saw the first ruin we were floored. The temples are beautifully ornate and full of gorgeous figures depicting battles and other scenes. The temple complex really requires a few hours to explore properly, so plan on spending an afternoon here (but pack water, because it gets hot).
We also explored some sights on the other side of the river one afternoon. The Monkey Temple is a famous temple located on a high hill, and if you can make it up the 600 steps to the top you’re rewarded with a panoramic view of Hampi and the surrounding area. We actually thought the natural landscape was more beautiful on the other side of the river despite the lack of ruins - it’s tons of palm trees and banana plantations - and we spent an afternoon just cruising around on the scooter and taking photos of the lush scenery.
Other than the temples and ruins, there’s honestly not much to do in Hampi - and that’s part of the appeal. Tourists stop here because it’s a little oasis of calm, a respite from the craziness that makes up the rest of India. There’s a reason most people who come here end up staying longer than they planned - things move at a slow, easy pace here and you’ve got no other option but to relax. The chill atmosphere is contagious - I even found myself adapting to the relaxed pace of life, and I’m the most tightly wound person I know!
In the afternoons after a long day of exploring the surrounding area, we’d hit up one of the many restaurants within the Bazaar to sprawl out on floor cushions and eat tasty curries. It seems like every restaurant in Hampi has its own loyal crowd, and we saw the same faces over and over. There were a few spots in particular that we took a liking to, so I’ll list them below. Keep in mind that most restaurants here are relatively interchangeable: they all serve a menu of Indian and some standard backpacker fare like falafel, pizza, and the like, but they each have their own unique atmosphere. *Please see the end of this post for more up to date information about Hampi Bazaar.*
First and foremost is The Old Chillout. Located at the end of an alley along the river in the Bazaar, this place consistently played good music and served delicious food. We loved all the curries we tried, the veg biryani was amazing, and we even had a pizza one day that was pretty decent. They also had a puppy and a kitten, and we love cute baby animals so that was a definite pro.
Across the river, we visited The Laughing Buddha a couple times. The river view is amazing and the food is delightful - I highly recommend the muesli/fruit/yogurt bowl, and the thali is also good. We almost stayed on the other side of the river JUST so we could come here every day for breakfast.
Back in the Bazaar, we really liked the Funky Monkey for coffee, and Chill Out In Bomboo (not to be confused with the Old Chillout mentioned above, they are next door to each other) was another great dinner spot. Suresh also serves an amazing thali that includes masala chai and water in the price, it’s a great deal!
There’s also one other popular, well known restaurant in Hampi Bazaar that’s enormous and I’m pretty sure everyone goes there at least once, but I won’t name it because we went 3 times but the third time we got severe, debilitating, painful food poisoning that sidetracked us for a full 24 hours. I think it was from eating some salad that came with our hummus. The cardinal rule of eating in India is to NEVER touch the salad, but we took the risk because it was a super-touristy restaurant and again, we’d eaten there twice already. Trouble always strikes when you have your guard down, people. Don’t be like us.
I should also mention that there’s technically no alcohol served at any of these restaurants because of the bazaar’s proximity to a holy site, but most places can rustle up a rum punch if you ask nicely and/or are a repeat customer.
There’s also a lot of good shopping - Hampi is basically a shopper’s paradise if you’re looking for hippie/backpacker clothes or cheap cute trinkets to bring home. Just be prepared to bargain hard and walk away if you don’t like the price offered - don’t worry, you’ll be able to find the same (or ‘same same’) item at another shop down the street! I loved the macrame bracelets that all the old ladies were making and selling down by the river.
Unfortunately, in the two weeks since we left Hampi, a lot has changed. We left on December 6, and right around that time apparently the government issued a new demolition order for the remaining businesses and homes in Hampi Bazaar. As I mentioned, the government has been slowly and systematically eliminating all guesthouses & businesses from the Hampi Bazaar area. Reliable information about the demolition process, the reasoning behind it, or what will become of the families who live there is hard to come by. We've gotten reports of folks arriving in Hampi only to find out that their guesthouse can't accommodate them because they've shut down. Apparently the demolitions are being contested in court, but we have no knowledge of when that might happen. Because of this, unfortunately the information we've provided above may or may not be accurate.
We are heartbroken to hear about the changes befalling Hampi and are honestly shocked at how quickly things seem to have changed - literally days after we left, this all went down. It sounds like if you're visiting Hampi in the near future, the other side of the river is still open for business although it sounds like guesthouses over there are inflating their rates. We've heard rumblings that that side might be next to go, although we can't confirm anything. This page will be updated as more news rolls in.
Right now, our best advice if you're planning a visit to Hampi is to ensure your accommodation is on the other (Anegundi/Hampi Island) side of the river. If you haven't prebooked, make a beeline for the other side of the river as soon as you arrive in town. There is still plenty of accommodation on that side and lots of activities to do both day and night. You will need to cross the river back to the Bazaar side anytime you want to explore the temples, which is a little inconvenient, but we promise it's worth it!
If you've also been to Hampi recently and have any up-to-date information we might have missed, please feel free to leave a comment below.