Crisp air, vast tea plantations, rolling hills, lots of wildlife, colonial-style tea estate guesthouses, and hardly any visitors make this tiny hill station a great winter holiday destination.

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Valparai is a small tea plantation town tucked away among the green hills of the Western Ghats. With its cool winter weather, colonial heritage and many animal visitors, it’s a great alternative to the usual winter tourist traps. Here are six reasons why it should be your winter holiday destination this year.

Also read: In the shadow of elephants in Valparai

1. There aren’t too many visitors around

Valparai is one of those beautiful, off-beat places that doesn’t get a whole lot of visitors. Unlike Munnar just across the border into Kerala, Valparai isn’t swarming with tourists. This, despite the fact that it’s a three-hour drive from Coimbatore airport.
Also unlike Munnar, Valparai isn’t commercial, which means you’ll still have some authentic experiences. If that means having to do without swank places to eat and without lots of tourist infrastructure, then I think that’s a worthwhile trade-off.

Hill cricket in Valparai - winter holiday destination
A game of hill cricket interrupted
The quiet main road through Iyerpadi near Valparai

2. Winter is actually the best time to visit

Though it does get a little cool during the winter season, this is actually the best time to visit Valparai. That’s because it tends to be a little rainy during the rest of the year. Also, hardly anyone thinks of heading up into the hills during the winter months, so you won’t see many fellow visitors. So pull on your jackets, slap on your monkey caps and enjoy the cool breeze and warm sunshine.

Forest temple near Valparai - winter holiday destination
A forest shrine in the mist
Blankets airing in the sun in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India
Blankets being aired outside a neighbor’s house in Iyerpadi near Valparai
Lonely Planet

3. The views of the tea plantations and the jungle-covered hills are spectacular

Located as it is in the Western Ghats, Valparai and its surrounding villages boast some spectacular views. The rolling tea plantations and the hills that surround them make for a magical setting, whatever the time of day. Everywhere you look is lush green (except maybe in town, which has a big, unsightly garbage dump). And the drives along the hill roads are lovely! Perfect for a winter holiday destination, I would say.

Mountains and clouds in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India
Mountain layers
View of mountains through tea plantations in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India
Plantation symmetry
Tea plantation road at sunset in Valparai, Anamalai Hills, Tamil Nadu, India
Lonely plantation road
Night sky showing Orion and Sirius in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India - winter holiday destination
The clear night sky

4. There’s lots of wildlife to be seen

The hills surrounding Valparai are home to lots of wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests. That means you’ll be sure to see something impressive during your visit. Lots of elephants use the plantations to pass between sanctuaries, and you’ll probably see gaur (also called Indian bison) browsing in the marshes. You’ll also have a few Malabar giant squirrel peeping at you through the trees. And if you’re lucky, you might spot a leopard, a threatened great hornbill, or an endangered lion-tailed macaque.

Unfortunately, because of increasing encroachment into the surrounding forest, there are frequent cases of people coming into conflict with animals—especially elephants. So if you’re there, please be very careful, and don’t go out alone at night. And please don’t feed the monkeys. It changes their natural behaviour and makes them aggressive.

Also read: Our Kenya safari: up close with Africa’s incredible wildlife

Lion-tailed macaque, Valparai
An endangered lion-tailed macaque seen from the road
A herd of gaur in a tea plantation in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India - winter holiday destination
A herd of female gaur and their calves
Bonnet macaque in pepper vines in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India
A bonnet macaque up to monkey business among the pepper vines
Red whiskered bulbul in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India - winter holiday destination
A red-whiskered bulbul with it’s jaunty crest
Beak of a female great hornbill in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India
The orange beak of a female great hornbill peeks out of her nest in a tree hollow
Malabar giant squirrel in a eucalyptus tree in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India - winter holiday destination
A curious Malabar giant squirrel right above us

5. Old-world hospitality at colonial-era estate houses still exists

Lots of the tea estates around Valparai are more than a century old, and some of them have converted their estate houses into guesthouses. These exclusive estate houses—like the wonderful Sinna Dorai’s Bungalow or the impressive-sounding Briar Tea Bungalows—offer old-world luxury and hospitality. There’s something magical about having a traditional meal in a warmly-lit colonial-style dining room, while you admire the endless tea plantations through the window.

Of course, all this comes at a price. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any pocket-friendly places to stay around Valparai. There’s accommodation options to suit every budget here, though not as many as you might be used to.

Signboard at Sinna Dorai's Bungalow near Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India - winter holiday destination
The entrance to Sinna Dorai’s
The warmly-lit front of the estate house
Bench with a hilltop view at Sinna Dorai's Bungalow, Valparai, Tamil Nadu, India - winter holiday destination
A bench with a view

6. Conservation teams are hard at work here

Conflict between people and animals happens everywhere human habitation expands into wildlife habitats, and this area is no exception. The Nature Conservation Foundation, a non-profit conservation organization, has a permanent team in the area. They work on issues like man-animal conflict, rainforest replenishment and awareness creation.

So if you’re concerned about environmental and conservation issues, this a great place to learn more. Especially if you visit their Ecoquest nature experience centre in nearby Iyerpadi. This little cottage has walls covered with incredible murals depicting the ecosystems and species of the Western Ghats. It’s quite a revelation, and I strongly recommend it. A stop here will give you an appreciation of the delicate ecosystems surrounding Valparai. And an insight into how to travel responsibly among them.

Read more about NCF’s programs in the Western Ghats, or even make a donation.

Also read: Easy ways to be a more responsible traveller

The Ecoquest centre
One of the many displays in Ecoquest
Rainforest nursey at Valparai - winter holiday destination
NCF’s rainforest nursery

So that’s why I think quiet, green Valparai makes for a great alternative to the usual winter holiday destinations. Need more convincing? Take a look at our experience in Valparai.

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