13 Essential Varanasi Travel Safety Tips – Important Things to Know Before Your Visit!

travel tips varanasi

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Varanasi can be an intense experience, even for the most experienced traveller.

It’s a complete culture shock and somewhere that you will never forget after you’ve left.

A rollercoaster of emotions and fascinating at the same time, you will definitely feel a presence in this holy city for sure.

This was the first place that I ever visited in India and, although I don’t regret diving in at the deep end (literally), I’m not sure if it was the best choice as a solo female traveller.

It was terrifying and I had to give myself a pep talk just to leave my hotel room (lol).

But, once I left my cave, I couldn’t believe what I was missing out on.

It’s definitely important to know where to go, how to stay safe and what not to do in this beautiful, crazy, chaotic city of the dead.

So, here are some travel safety tips you need to know before you visit Varanasi!

travel safety tips varanasi

My top Varanasi travel tips 

Possibly the most important is to come with an open mind to experience, learn and understand the culture here and what this holy city represents.

Those who practice the Hindu faith are meant to do a pilgrimage here once in their lifetime and bathe in the holy river Ganga (the Ganges to us western folk).

It’s the holiest of all the holy Hindu cities in India and those who are cremated here will receive salvation for their souls and eventually make their way to Nirvana.

Don’t be put off visiting here due to the cremations, you don’t have to see them if you don’t want to!

But, if you do, it’s not as scary an experience as you might think. I cover this in more detail in my post ‘What it’s like visiting the Varanasi cremation ghats’.

travel safety tips for varanasi

2. Girls, dress conservatively

India is quite a strict country on dress code anyway and showing too much flesh can bring some unwanted attention, especially if you’re pins are pale as a ghost-like me.

Varanasi is a holy city and funerals are happening every day on the river.

So, make sure you cover your legs and shoulders. Now, I’m not saying you need to go full Indian and were a Sari or Punjabi suit but a cotton top which covers the shoulders and a maxi skirt or trousers would be fine.

safety travel tips varanasi

3. Watch out for scams

There are countless scams which are commonly used to get tourists to cough up their rupees.

Some, I have been subject to myself and some I heard about from my tour guide.

Some people will ask for money for wood for their families funeral, take you for a better view of the cremations or take you to ‘half way houses’ telling you that the people inside are waiting to die.

Boat riders will always ask for a ridiculous amount of money for a boat tour at first and taxi drivers will also pair up with these to get a commission from you.

The same goes for tourist shops. It’s all about commission!

My biggest tip would be to use common sense and arrange a boat tour and shopping on your own.

travel safety tips for varanasi

4. Do not bathe in the Ganga (river Ganges)

This is a holy pilgrimage site and swimming or dipping your feet in here as a tourist is a big no, no.

Not that you would want to when you see the colour of the water due to the pollution.

I honestly can’t believe that people drink it, but it happens every day.

There are bodies, ashes, animals, rubbish, hair and all sorts that gets thrown in here and so it’s best to leave the swimming and washing the locals.

travel safety tips varanasi

5. Watch out for bulls and bull crap

There seem to be a ton more bulls here in Varanasi than anywhere else in India.

As Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva and bulls are meant to be the living embodiment of Shiva, it does make sense.

But, it can be quite scary to move round a massive bull in the teeny tiny little alleyways.

When I was walking down one of these said alleyways, a bull got scared of the bikes coming through and started to charge at me!

Luckily, my tour guide threw me up against the wall away from the horns or it would have been painful.

There’s also a lot of cow dung all over the streets and so be careful of getting it in between your toes or slipping on it. I would avoid pretty sandals (lol) :P

travel safety tips varanasi

6. Be careful where you choose to eat

Varanasi is a pretty congested and filthy city and the hygiene of the restaurants is questionable.

My tour guide also suggested that I should eat at my hotel and avoid picking places close to the river.

Even if the restaurants are hygienic, the streets around them are not so make sure you thoroughly wash your hands before you begin eating.

There are a lot of tourist places which you can find on Tripadvisor which are tried and tested by other travellers, or you could try some fresh street food.

Always make sure it’s piping hot and fresh before you eat it.

travel safety tips varanasi
Visiting the famous Blue Lassi, this one was pineapple!

7. Stay safe when trying Bhang Lassi

Bhang is edible cannabis which a handful of legal government shops will sell you.

Hindu’s will usually eat this around festivals (especially ones celebrating Lord Shiva as he eats Bhang) or have it in a traditional Lassi.

Bhang is a mind-altering drug and although it may sound trippy and fun, it’s best to stay safe and even more so if you’re by yourself.

Always make sure you buy from a government-approved shop and you try with other people around you.

If you’re worried about it, don’t try it as it could be scary.

sadhu kedar ghat

8. Keep your valuables safe

Varanasi is notorious for pick pockets, especially around the Cantt train station so make sure you keep your bags locked up and in your sight at all times.

It’s also important to do this around the main ghat, Ganga aarti’s in the evening time and when you’re walking through the market.

If you’re concerned, I would leave your valuables in your hotel room.

Travel safety tips Varanasi

9. Haggle, a lot

It can get exhausting, but practising and becoming more confident with your negotiating skills will mean you get a fair and honest price.

Although you’re pretty much on a losing streak anyway if you’re from the West, make sure you persevere.

I found that in Varanasi everything from Tuk-Tuk’s, shopping, taxi’s and food would have quite a high price attached to it. Especially, the boat rides.

Oh, the boat ride haggling was fun. At first, our taxi driver took us to a ‘boatman’ who quoted us 1800 rupees for an hours tour with the row boat.

Having done a boat ride here before and knowing the price, I almost laughed and refused. This proceeded with him following us for 20 minutes all the way down to the river despite us saying ‘NO’ a thousand times.

Knowing it was better to organise myself to avoid paying a commission, I started to haggle with all of the boat riders down by the main ghat and got all sorts of excuses as to why they were charging 800 per hour.

Eventually, after a few ‘walk away’ tactics, they got the price down to 300 per hour. An honest price.

Make sure you pay no more than 500 per hour. You may pay more at sunrise.

varanasi cremation ghats

10. Do NOT take photos of the cremation ghats

Not that you would, but it’s best to mention that it is completely prohibited to take pictures of the cremations taking place.

You have to think that you’re pretty much-attending someone’s funeral and it’s a form of disrespect.

I wouldn’t even have your camera or phone on show near the burning ghat or you may hear shouting from afar.

As soon as you’re past the cremations, it’s perfectly fine to take pictures of the other ghats, there are 84 beautiful ones to choose from.

RIVER GANGES

11. The pollution can be horrendous so take precautions

In the city streets, I couldn’t believe the congestion and traffic.

The horns made my ears bleed and the fumes from the vehicles, especially when we were stuck in a queue, just got a bit too much for me when I was travelling back in a Rickshaw.

If you have any sort of asthma and or breathing difficulties, I would recommend a taxi and to make sure you’ve brought an inhaler with you.

Or, you could wear an anti-pollution (vog mask) to try and stop some of it getting in your lungs. Yuk!

safety travel tips varanasi

12. Be careful venturing out at night alone

Personally, after the Ganga aarti took place in the evening time, I’d venture back to my hotel and stay there.

Varanasi is totally not a party place and walking down the labyrinth of alleyways can be a tough job in the day, let alone at night.

So, if you are planning on heading out in the evenings, I would try and buddy up with someone.

If you’re a female travelling solo, I would avoid it altogether as I found there were way too many hawkers, people trying to get me to buy beer and hash and it was just downright creepy.

safety travel tips varanasi

13. Wash after watching the cremations

There is ash flying everywhere around the burning ghats whether you’re watching from above, from the ghats or on the boat offshore.

Some priests, including one I met for a chat with my guide, cover themselves in the ashes of the dead.

To make sure, I would wash your hair and your clothes after you have watched the cremations leaving no trace on you.

river ganges sunrise

…And finally, the most important tip of all, enjoy it!

Although Varanasi does sound pretty intense from these tips alone, it’s actually one of the most amazing cities that you will ever visit in your lifetime.

It’s definitely up there in my top 5 Indian destinations and I would have no trouble coming back for a visit.

kedar ghat sunrise

Want to read more on Varanasi?

Check out my honest and informative articles on Varanasi below;

My complete Varanasi travel guide

An honest solo female guide to Varanasi

What it’s like visiting the Varanasi cremation ghats

How to travel to Nepal from Varanasi

Read more of my India articles

How to spend one day in Delhi

The ultimate Rajasthan itinerary

A first timers guide to Jaipur

A complete guide for Manali

Why you need to visit Shimla

Exploring Leh Ladakh

One week Kerala Itinerary

North East India bucket list

Things to do in Dharamshala

Top tips for the Taj Mahal

My complete guide for Rishikesh

Things to do in Hampi

Save these Varanasi safety tips for later!

VARANASI safety travel tips

17 thoughts on “13 Essential Varanasi Travel Safety Tips – Important Things to Know Before Your Visit!

  1. Amita says:

    These are great tips! I’ve never visited Varanasi but I’ll keep it in mind for next time I’m in India. The river ganges is disgusting – to be fair, I know family members who bathe in it because it’s considered ‘good luck’ and gives you blessings. But I’d still never bathe in it haha. xx

    • Sophie Pearce says:

      Thank you so much for reading! Yes it is in Varanasi but at the source near Rishikesh it’s beautifully clear. I would never bathe in it in Varanasi either ???? the closest I got was my feet! Xx

    • Sophie Pearce says:

      Thank you so much for reading! Yes it is in Varanasi but at the source near Rishikesh it’s beautifully clear. I would never bathe in it in Varanasi either ???? the closest I got was my feet! Xx

    • Sophie Pearce says:

      Hi Olga, I don’t know individual drivers, sorry ! I haven’t been to India in a while now. But, I would recommend Sivaari – https://www.savaari.com or Make my Trip to book – https://www.makemytrip.com/cabs ! You can find deals here or ask for a recommendation when you get to Delhi! Hope this helps and have a great time! Sophie x

  2. Sarah says:

    Varanasi is the most calm and interesting place in India.

    I would love to go back there again and again.

    Thanks for you awesome travel guide and photos are really beautiful.

    • Sophie Pearce says:

      Hi Sarah, I totally agree. Varanasi is one of the most beautiful cities of India. Thanks for stopping by and your support. Sophie x

  3. sarahclark says:

    I haven’t visited varanasi yet! But, would like to! Your post is simply very handy and literally portrays the scenes that I’ve heard from many, Sophie. Thanks for the great post. Keep continuing!

    • Sophie Pearce says:

      Hi Sarah, Varanasi is such a great city to visit for many reasons. There’s so much to see and explore. Thanks for reading. Sophie x

  4. Sonu says:

    All of your points are not completely true because u didn’t understand true varanasi. u are just spreading fake news and I’m so sure because I am born and raised in varanasi. U can ask me anything regarding my comment.

    • Sophie Pearce says:

      Hi Sonu, that’s amazing that you were born in Varanasi. It’s true, I could never hope to understand Banares as you do having lived there all your life.

      But, you must understand what it’s like for tourists who visit your home. It’s extremely overwhelming and so different from the West. It’s very small, hectic and busy with a completely different culture. My hope with this post is to further prepare people for their visit from a tourists perspective and to allow for further understanding.

      My tour guide who showed me around Varanasi, who was also born and raised there, was actually the one who told me of these safety tips in my post!

      You can hardly deny that scams happen here on a daily basis. Or, that tourists are targetted for boat rides and blessings? Even my friends from Rajasthan were targetted as they weren’t local or from UP.

      However, I would love to know your insights as to what the ‘true’ Varanasi is from a local’s perspective. So, if you have the time, please let me know below…

      Om nama shivay, Sophie x

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