Wondering which places to visit in Maharashtra besides Mumbai? Although the state has a diverse mix of attractions, it hasn't been developed and promoted as a tourist destination like Rajasthan or Kerala. Hence, most of them are not widely known. Here's where to go and what to see, including some offbeat places to get away from it all.
For Heritage: Ajanta and Ellora Caves
The Ajanta and Ellora caves, in northern Maharashtra, are one of the most astonishing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India and a must-see when visiting the state. These remarkable caves have been hand-carved into rock in the middle of nowhere, with some dating back as far as the 2nd century BC. Most of the caves were a part of Buddhist monasteries where monks lived and studied, although some caves are Hindu and Jain. They feature intricate sculptures, ancient paintings, and phenomenal architecture. The caves are most commonly accessed via Aurangabad, about six hours east of Mumbai. Aurangabad has an airport.
For Beach and Folk Art: Sindhudurg
Alibaug usually comes to mind as a beach getaway from Mumbai. However, if you'd prefer to go somewhere off-the-beaten-track, the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra's Konkan Coast is ideal. This district has been named after the historic 16th century fort near Malvan beach, which you can explore. The district has some of the most pristine beaches on the coast (Tarkali, Malvan, Vengurla, and Bhogwe), plus some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in India. If you're interested in Indian folk art, head inland to the town of Sawantwadi, where artisans handcraft colorful wooden toys. Pinguli village, about 30 minutes away near Kudal, is home to artists of the Thakar tribal community who are renowned for their puppetry and unique Chitrakathi style of painting. It tells stories from the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
While there are plenty of inexpensive beach-side homestays and guesthouses in the area, up until recently there's been an absence of luxury accommodations. That's changed now, following the opening of Coco Shambhala's new hotel, with four gorgeous villas overlooking the ocean.
Sindhudurg's new airport was finally inaugurated in early 2019. The district can also be reached in about seven hours by train from Mumbai (get off at Kudal station). Otherwise, the airport in Goa is about three hours drive away.
For Wineries and Temples: Nashik
A wine region probably isn't an attraction you'd expect to find in India. Although the country's wine industry is still in the nascent stage, it's growing rapidly. The biggest wine region is located in Nashik, about four hours northeast of Mumbai. Nowadays, many wineries there have tasting rooms, restaurants, and even accommodations. Sula Vineyards is the most well-known of these. Red Grapes, a company specializing in wine tourism, has also set up a Wine Information Center in the area. It offers camping stays, for those on a budget.
Apart from wineries, there are a number of other places to visit in Nashik. The town is a sacred pilgrim destination, where Lord Ram is believed to have lived during his exile from Ayodhya. It has an intriguing Old City and plenty of temples along the holy Godavari River.
For Maharashtrian Culture: Pune
Pune was the capital of the Maratha Empire from the 17th-19th centuries, when it flourished under the leadership of the Peshwas. Although Mumbai is now the state capital, Pune is still regarded as Maharashtra's cultural capital. It's not a well-known tourist destination but it's an interesting place to visit to get an understanding of the state's history and customs, as well as the Indian Independence Movement and its freedom fighters (many of whom lived in Pune). The highlight is the Old City, with its heritage buildings, markets, temples, and craftsmen. Pune can be easily reached in about three hours from Mumbai via the Mumbai-Pune Highway.
For Serenity: Matheran
Feel like a break from the ubiquitous honking in India? All vehicles are banned in Matheran, a hill station a couple of hours east of Mumbai, making it delightfully noise-free. To get there, it's necessary to take a toy train or ride up on horseback from the car park. Matheran is covered in forest, with long walking tracks leading to panoramic views. There are more than 35 viewpoints spread across the hilltop, including ones for sunrise and sunset. The hill station has some atmospheric Colonial heritage hotels too, such as the Parsi Manor, Verandah in the Forest, and Lord's Central.
For Spirituality: Shirdi
Sai Baba is a revered Indian saint who lived in the small town of Shirdi, in Maharashtra, in the late 19th century. He passed away in 1918 and his body was laid to rest at the temple complex there. His teachings blended elements of Hinduism and Islam, and were centered around the equality of everyone and tolerance of all religions. Although not a lot is known about Sai Baba, including where he was born or his real name, many of his followers believed he could perform miracles. Plan a pilgrimage to Shirdi with this guide. The recent opening of Shirdi airport has made the town more accessible.
For an Interesting Perspective on Crime: Shani Shingnapur
Maharashtra's village with door-less homes and shops attracts a lot of attention because of the residents' belief that local deity Lord Shani (the Hindu god associated with Saturn) will protect them from crime. Accordingly, if anyone steals or is dishonest, they'll face seven and a half years of bad luck as punishment from the god. The famous village temple attracts many pilgrims, who popularly visit it on a day trip from Shirdi two hours away.
For Adventure: Lonavala
The huge appeal of Lonavala, located roughly halfway between Mumbai and Pune, is that there's something for everyone to enjoy. Hot air ballooning, paragliding, and bungee jumping are popular with adrenaline junkies. Dela Adventure Park offers more than 50 adventure activities, and has an adventure resort as well. Or, explore the historic Bhaja and Karla caves, and Lohagad and Visapur forts. The area is also renowned for its many lakes. Pawna Lake is a picturesque camping and fishing spot. Have a meal (and camel ride) at theme-based Kinara Dhaba Village for some added entertainment.
For Jungle Safaris: Tadoba National Park
Maharashtra's most-visited national park, Tadoba has risen in prominence due to the frequency of tiger sightings there. If you want to go on safari and see a tiger in the wild, this park is one of the best places in India to do so! Tadoba is open daily except Tuesdays. It's most conveniently reached from Nagpur, three hours away, which has the nearest airport.
A rare is geological wonder can be found in the Deccan Plateu, about three hours east of Aurangabad in the Buldhana district of Maharashtra. This 1.9 meter impact crater is said to have been made when a huge meteor hit the earth about 40,000 to 52,000 years ago. It's thought to be the only known impact crater in the world to have formed on basalt rock. As for the meteor, it's believed to be buried far down underneath the crater. The crater has turned into a lake that's almost 150 meters deep. You can trek down to it. There are numerous small temples around it, plus many species of birds. Maharashtra Tourism provides the best accommodations near the crater.
For a Rural Experience: Purushwadi
One of India's top rural experiences can be had in Purushwadi village, about 3 hours drive northeast of Mumbai. Eco-tourism company Grassroutes has adopted this village and developed community-based tourism there. Accommodations are provided in simple village homestays with very basic facilities, or tents at a special campsite with western-style bathrooms. There are plenty of things to do including trekking, swimming in the river, and joining in daily farming activities (such as herding cattle and plowing the fields). Kids will love it! Depending on the time of the year, it's also possible to watch fireflies (May-July), help in the cultivation of rice (June-August), or participate in a festival.
For Trekking: Sandhan Valley
The extensive Sahyadri range of the Western Ghat mountains, which run through Maharashtra and all the way down to Tamil Nadu, draws a lot of trekkers. The most extraordinary trek is to the Sandhan Valley, not far from Purushwadi. The Valley, sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of Maharashtra, is a naturally-formed gorge that extends for about 2 kilometers (1.25 miles). In parts, it's nearly 500 feet deep, and so narrow that the sun's rays can't reach inside. Starting out from Samrad village (where homestay accommodations are available), what makes the trek unique is that it there's no ascent. Don't get the wrong impression that it's easy though! It requires jumping over boulders, crossing pools of water, and rappelling down canyon rock faces. The trek lasts for a day and is best undertaken from November to February. Various companies offer guided Sandhan Valley treks departing from Mumbai, and it's a good idea to go on one of them, rather than travel independently. Try Treks and Trails or Mumbai Travellers.
There are almost 30 viewpoints around Mahabalehswar, a popular hill station about five hours southeast of Mumbai in the Western Ghat mountains. The town is also renowned for its fresh strawberries (as well as mulberries, raspberries, and gooseberries). Strawberry season runs from November to March, and you can feast on them at Mapro Gardens and Archie's Farm. Otherwise, go trekking, fishing, boating, horse riding, or enjoy the views!
If you're interested in traditional Indian handicrafts, don't miss visiting Devrai Art Village at Panchgani. The village, which is only about 30 minutes from Mahabaleshwar, is patenting its own version of Chhattisgarh's dhokra art. It has about 35 resident tribal artists from Naxal-affected regions of Chhattisgarh and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. They're encouraged to experiment with new designs and gain inspiration from communing with nature. he village has a workshop and gallery, open all year, where visitors can get an understanding of the dhokra process and purchase products.
The Warlis are an indigenous Maharastrian tribe known for their distinctive folk art. The art, which depicts daily and social events, is a way of life for them and is commonly used to decorate the walls of their homes. The paintings have become really popular and are sold all over India. You can find out more about them and even make your own on this Warli village tour conducted by Mumbai-based responsible tourism company Swadesee. The tour is led by an acclaimed Warli artist who will take you to his village near Vangaon, about three hours north of Mumbai.
For Portuguese Heritage and Goan Vibes: Vasai
Vasai is one of the best day trips to take from Mumbai. Located just north of the city, this beach town feels a lot like Goa with its pervasive Portuguese heritage and peaceful palm-lined streets. You may be surprised to learn that Vasai was larger and more important than Mumbai in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Portuguese had their headquarters in Vasai fort. Read more about Vasai and what to see there.