This might be the perfect half day or full day trip you need to escape the chaos of Mumbai. It’s a peaceful place to go and although you will need to climb a fair number of stairs in the heat and humidity, it’s worth the climb and if you take your time, certainly doable.
This UNESCO site is about an hour ferry ride from Mumbai. For the best experience of the caves, get there on the first ferry that departs to beat the crowds. You’ll only be competing against the others on the boat and many may not make it up the hill quickly so there’s a good chance you can have the site almost entirely to yourself.
The ferry departs from the Gate of India. When I was there, it used the gate directly behind the gate. You may see other ferries so I’m not sure how it works exactly.
Know that entrance into the Gate of India area/complex is free and you’ll just have to pass through a metal detector for security. If anyone tries to sell you a ticket to the Gate or a ferry “tour”, it’s probably a scam.
The first ferry departs the Gate of India at 9am. When I was there, it actually left a little early (around 8:50am) and there were actually people trying to get on when the ferry left. I can’t imagine that it’s a common occurrence but I’m glad I got there a little early.
Once I entered, I was approached by someone asking if I wanted to go to Elephanta Island. I said yes and he asked if I wanted a “regular “ or “luxury” ticket. The research I’d done only had one class with an extra cost to sit on the upper deck of the ferry so I didn’t quiet know what he was getting at. Once through the metal detectors, he asked me again and asked if I wanted to go to the caves. He said if I wanted to go to the caves, that ferry would leave a little later. Then I firmly said “no, I need to be on the 9am ferry” and left as he was still talking about a later ferry. I don’t know what his sales pitch was but I’m glad I knew what I wanted before going to the dock.
The ferry ride cost $205INR (about $2.50 USD) and it’s for a round trip ticket. The ferry took about an hour and you can pay extra if you’d like to sit on the 2nd floor. However, on the first ferry, there was ample seating. Seating might be little more cramped later in the day as there may be more people than seats so in that case, the extra cost might be worth it. I didn’t sit up top so I don’t know the price but it looked like $10 INR to me.
Once you arrive on the island, you’ll see a small train that looks like the type of children’s ride you’d see at a circus. But this is a real life miniature train. They charge you to take it but it only takes you from one end of the dock to the other. I can see it being kind of useful at the end of the day if you’re too tired to walk but I didn’t see the point so I didn’t take it.
Once you get to the base of the hill, you’ll be asked to pay $5 INR. I guess that’s a maintenance fee for for $5 INR, I really didn’t care. The real entrance fee is at the top once you climb the stairs.
Beware: there are monkeys on the island and they can get aggressive. I wouldn’t toy with them since if they’re anything like the monkeys in Kuala Lumpur, they’ll know food when they see it and they’ll be aggressive in going after it. I wouldn’t carry any snacks or have food in the open if you don’t want it taken from you.
So walking up the stairs to the entrance is going to take about 10 minutes. Obviously coming back down is a lot easier than going up but just take your time and you’ll be fine. However, if you do have a health condition or bad knees that make stairs difficult, you can pay someone to carry you up the hill. Basically you’ll have 4 guys carry you on a chair royalty style up the hill. I have no clue how much they charge but there were a few people who did it so obviously there is a market for this.
Also, the stairs are lined with people selling all kinds of souvenirs so if you’re interested, just remember to buy it on the way down vs. the way up.
Beware: at the top, I noticed there were 2 ladies standing by the entrance and asking you to take a picture with them in it. I expected something was up so I just ignored them but there was a couple who obliged and the ladies immediately started harassing them for money as soon as the photo was taken. I don’t know if they obliged but just know they’re there.
Once at the top, you’ll need to pay the entrance fee. It’s $600 INR (about $8 USD) to enter so it isn’t cheap as far as attractions go in India. However, my guess is at this point, they know you’ll just about pay anything to go in since you’ve already made the climb. Pretty shady but pretty smart too. I mean, you’ve also paid for the ferry, spent an hour getting to the island, and climbed up stairs for 10 minutes in hot and humid weather. I don’t think you’re going to be deterred now.
As you enter, you’ll be met by people who will be happy to give you a tour of the caves. You don’t need a tour guide but if that’s your thing, here’s the time to hire someone.
Once inside, you’ll see the most famous of the caves on your right. They honestly aren’t that big and although there are 4(?) other caves to look at, none are as impressive as the first. To be honest, you’ll want to spend the bulk of your time in the first cave since it is the most impressive. The rest of the caves are far less impressive and really unmemorable. Now, since you’re already there, you’re obviously going to see them but if for some reason you miss the other caves, don’t feel like you’ve missed out.
So the first ferry that leave the island is as 12. If you’re on a time crunch it’s very possible to take the 9am ferry to the island (getting there at 10am), have a good 90 minutes to explore, and take the 12pm ferry back to Mumbai. It’s what I did and I didn’t feel rushed at all. Now you can certainly take your time since a ferry will leave Mumbai and the island every 30 mins after 9am and 12pm respectively. However, remember that the ferry does take an hour each way so you’ll need to plan for that.
The ticket you bought in the morning is a good for the round trip journey so you can just ask which boat to get on and they’ll direct you the correct one. There’s only one dock so you basically just go back to where you were dropped off and catch the ferry.
The Elephanta Caves make for a great and fun day trip outside the bustling city of Mumbai. Overall, the cost is a little high (in my view) but it isn’t like you’ll be coming back to Mumbai specifically to visit the Elephanta caves so I think it’s worth the time and cost to check out. Get there early to avoid the crowds but the earliest you can arrive is 10am so it’ll more than likely be more than a half day trip for most. But it’ll be great way to knock off seeing the Gate of India as well to save yourself another trip.