Jaisalmer Fort Sonar Quila in India

Explore India’s Golden City: The Best Things to Do in Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer is a city rich in culture and history near the Thar Desert. Read on for places to see in Jaisalmer that you can’t miss!

Take one step into Jaisalmer and you’ll see why it is also known as “The Golden City”. The Rajasthan city lies in northwest India on the border with Pakistan, and is surrounded wall-to-wall by a deep beige-coloured sandstone: a signal that you’re never too far from the desert.

Gadisar Lake in Jaisalmer India with text overlay View of Jaisalmer from Sonar Quila in Jaisalmer India with text overlay Woman standing in Mandir Palace Jaisalmer India with text overlay
View of Jaisalmer from Sonar Quila Jaisalmer Fort India

Though the vast majority of travelers check out “The Golden Triangle” to explore some of India’s most iconic landmarks and tourist attractions, trust me when I tell you that there is much more to this wondrous country that you’re missing out on if you don’t venture beyond Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

Jaisalmer is a must-visit city on your journey through Rajasthan, and it was a highlight of our trip back to India – the country that keeps beckoning, time and time again. Read on for a quick guide to visiting Jaisalmer – places to see, where to stay, how to get around and more.

Looking for even more India travel tips and destination guides? Head on over here!

What you need to know before traveling to India

Bada Bagh Cenotaphs in Jaisalmer India
  • Best time to visit Jaisalmer: India’s peak tourism season runs from around October/November to March, and Jaisalmer experiences fairly extreme temperature changes so you’ll need to be prepared for searing hot weather during the day, and frosty mornings and evenings. If you visit outside of this season you might find the heat too intense, or painful even. In comparison to Agra, Delhi and Jaipur, the crowds at the main sightseeing landmarks are slightly more tolerable.
  • How to get to Jaisalmer: Jaisalmer has a small airport (airport code: JSA) which has occasional flights from Delhi, or you could also opt to fly to Jodphur airport (JDH) and drive the rest of the way which will take just under 5 hours. The drive from Jaipur to Jaisalmer or Udaipur to Jaisalmer will take approximately 9-10 hours, or alternatively you can also take a bus or train.
  • Local currency: The local currency is the Indian Rupee or INR. The exchange rate is approximately 60 INR to 1 USD – most places only accept cash, so make sure you get some money out or exchange a small amount when you arrive in India.
  • Dress code in India: If you are a female traveler, leave any revealing clothes at home – your best bet is to bring long pants or dresses and sweaters that you can layer on easily because of the cold mornings and evenings.
  • Stay connected in India: In order to get a local SIM card, you will need to provide a copy of your passport and passport photo. Airtel has a booth in the arrivals hall at Delhi airport and you can purchase a local SIM card for a few hundred Rupees. You get 1 GB a day and the SIM is valid for 30 days, though the SIM card itself will need 12+ hours to be activated.
  • India visa process: The dreaded India visa process has been simplified over the years, but you still need to get the application started as early as possible. If you hold a passport from one of the countries on the “approved” list then you are eligible to apply for an e-visa. The official e-visa website is located here – do not fall for any other India visa website as there are many fakes out there. If you hold a passport of a country not on the pre-approved e-visa list, you will need to visit your local consulate and go through the traditional offline visa application process. Once you have received an e-mail confirming that your e-visa application was successful, you must go back to the e-visa website to check your visa status and print out the official visa – a print out of the e-mail confirmation is not sufficient.

How to get around India

Streets of Jaisalmer Fort in India

Do you need a tour guide to travel around India? No. But does having one make your life easier? 100% yes. For our trip to Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Udaipur we once again turned to Top Indian Holidays to help plan our trip, organize a driver and arrange a local guide. Nand Singh and his team planned our private Golden Triangle tour a few years ago, and we were so impressed with their professionalism, knowledge and hospitality that my mum and I knew that this was the best way to experience more of India.

If you’re a longtime reader then you’ll know that I only recommend services, hotels and experiences that I have had positive personal experiences with. And just so you know, we were paying customers with Top Indian Holidays (for a second time!) and I was not compensated for this article. Our private guide, Yuvraj, showed us around Jaipur and Agra the first time around, and we were thrilled that he was available to host us through more cities in Rajasthan – his home state.

Of course, it is also possible to organize the trip entirely by yourself, but you will need to find a reliable driver (or attempt to figure out India’s complicated and sometimes utterly unreliable railway/bus system), and also potentially have to seek out non-scammy tour guides. If you are short on time and don’t want to muck around with logistical nightmares, and you want a deeper understanding of the history and cultural significance of the monuments, then I absolutely recommend that you enlist the help of a qualified and experienced tour agency.

Best hotels in Jaisalmer

Mandir Palace in Jaisalmer India

Wondering where to stay in Jaisalmer? Even though we only had 2 days in Jaisalmer we were able to stay at 2 of the top hotels in the city: Suryagarh and Mandir Palace.

Suryagarh is one of the best luxury hotels in all of India – the desert-set hotel was designed to resemble an ancient palace and features elegant courtyards, stunning architecture and spacious rooms across the sprawling complex. The palace is located outside of Jaisalmer town and offers a beyond-the-ordinary stay in the Golden City. Click here to see current rates and availability for Suryagarh Jaisalmer!

Mandir Palace is the perfect hotel in Jaisalmer for a truly authentic heritage stay – the palace is more than 200 years old and has been home to the royal family of Jaisalmer for generations. We were fortunate to meet some of the family including their adorable baby girl! The stay at Mandir Palace was the perfect way to round out our time in Jaisalmer, and is located right in the heart of the city for those looking to get around easily on foot. The on-site restaurant is outrageously good, and they organize traditional Rajasthan dances and performances for its guests in the evenings. Click here to see current rates and availability at Mandir Palace!

Have more than 2 days in Jaisalmer? You might want to experience one of the luxury desert camps for a glamping stay under the stars – here are some highly rated options!

You might also like: A 1 Week Rajasthan Itinerary for First Time Visitors

The best places to see in Jaisalmer

Haveli in Jaisalmer India

Though Jaisalmer may be lesser-visited than other cities in Rajasthan I would still recommend venturing to the far west to experience the Golden City. Wondering how many days in Jaisalmer is enough? I would recommend no less than 2 days if you want to visit all of the top Jaisalmer tourist attractions and immerse yourself in the living history of the city. Read on for incredible things to do and places to visit in Jaisalmer!

1. Explore Jaisalmer Fort

Jaisalmer Fort Sonar Quila in India

Jaisalmer Fort is also known as “Sonar Quila” and dates back to the 12th Century. Unlike other forts around India, Jaisalmer Fort is a “living fort” which means that it is still inhabited today by approximately 4000 residents who live in the havelis, and operate shops and hotels. Together with the other hill forts of Rajasthan, the Jaisalmer Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hand prints at Jaisalmer Fort in India

Tip: ask your guide about the hand prints on the fort walls, and the traditional dress of Rajasthan Rajput warriors.

Jaisalmer Fort Sonar Quila in India

Wander and weave up the cobblestone road through the major gateways of the fort, designed to slow down any incoming invaders and their elephants, and be sure to visit the panoramic views from the fort’s cannon. Your Jaisalmer sightseeing itinerary is not complete without a visit to the Jain Temple inside Sonar Quila – an ancient temple featuring stunning design and a glimpse into the practices of the religion.

Jain Temple in Sonar Quila Jaisalmer Fort in India

Entry costs 200 Rupees and you must leave any food, water and leather products outside. You may be approached by one of the priests for a donation – this is entirely up to you and not required as your entrance fare is also a donation to the temple; if you so feel like giving an additional amount, you can go ahead and place it directly in the donation bowl rather than to the priest.

2. Visit the merchant havelis

Patwon Ki Haveli in Jaisalmer India

Once you have traversed through the main streets and Jaisalmer Fort, head to the Havelis of local merchants to learn about everyday life and gatherings in the chowks or main courtyards, and perhaps even indulge in some traditional Indian street food.

Street food in Jaisalmer Fort in India

If you only have time to explore 2 merchant townhouses check out the Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli built by two brothers in the 19th century, and the Patwon Ki Haveli – a five-story haveli featuring intricately carved facades on all sides.

3. Be still at Gadisar Lake

Gadisar Lake in Jaisalmer India

Gadisar Lake is a man-made reservoir dating back to the 14th century, designed to provide water for the surrounding city. There are several temples, shrines and ghats around the small lake and is a popular tourist attraction in Jaisalmer. Some people offer boat rides around the lake for a small fee, and it’s not uncommon to see lots of Indian couples here taking their pre-wedding photos.

Gadisar Lake in Jaisalmer India

Stay a while and take in the tranquility of the lake, and you’ll see why it’s one of the most fascinating attractions in Jaisalmer.

4. Check out Bada Bagh

Bada Bagh in Jaisalmer India

Bada Bagh is a sprawling garden complex housing the royal cenotaphs, or “empty tombs” of the royal family of Jaisalmer. Cremations were held by the lake, their ashes were spread and cenotaphs were erected within the garden.

Bada Bagh Cenotaphs in Jaisalmer India

Bada Bagh is becoming increasingly popular and one of the top attractions in Jaisalmer today. You can walk around the garden for a small fee of 150 Rupees per person (plus 50 Rupees per camera) to see the monuments and memorial stones: the stones are carved in a way that depicts how they died, and how many of their wives committed sati – a practice in which a widow sacrifices herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Bada Bagh Cenotaphs in Jaisalmer India

It is said that if the ruler is depicted on a horse that has 2 legs raised that he died fighting in war, if the horse has 1 leg raised the ruler succumbed to war injuries, and if all 4 legs are on the ground then he died from natural causes.

5. Visit the Desert National Park

Desert safari in Jaisalmer in India

Visiting the Thar Desert of Jaisalmer and watching the fiery sunset from the sand dunes is an absolute must for anyone visiting the Golden City. The Desert National Park is approximately 45 minutes to an hour away from the heart of Jaisalmer City and features fine terracotta-coloured sand and delicate dunes. The park is also a popular place for people who want to experience a camel safari in Jaisalmer – something I had zero interest in doing, given that there seems to be little to no regulations on camel welfare in the desert.

Camel safari in Thar Desert near Jaisalmer in India

Instead, I urge you to go for a barefoot stroll and find yourself a (somewhat) quiet dune to watch the sun go down. Though we were in India towards the end of the peak season, there were still many tourists in the desert – and unfortunately, also a ridiculous amount of trash buried in the sand. Leave no trace when you visit the Thar Desert, and take any trash with you at the end of your desert safari in Jaisalmer!

6. Stay at Mandir Palace

Camel safari in Thar Desert near Jaisalmer in India

After the golden age of India’s maharajas had passed, many royal families converted their palaces and forts into museums and heritage hotels: the Mandir Palace is one such place. The royal family of Jaisalmer wished to share a piece of the family and city’s living history with visitors, and offers a small on-site museum as well as stunning courtyards and rooftops that guests can visit. Its tower, the “Badal Vilas”, stands as the tallest structure below the Jaisalmer Fort.

Rajasthan folk dance in Jaisalmer India

Those looking for a memorable stay should check out Mandir Palace: one of the best heritage hotels in Jaisalmer. The rooftop offers beautiful views of Jaisalmer Fort, and the courtyard is used to host colourful Rajasthan dancers and museums in the evenings – we loved watching the talented performers and even found ourselves holding our breaths several times when the dancer stood on nails and even broken glass. Don’t try this at home!

Streets of Jaisalmer Fort in India

Ready to go sightseeing in Jaisalmer? The compact Golden City enchanted with its rich culture, heritage and architecture, and is a wonderful stop during your 1 week in Rajasthan.

Looking for the best hotels in Jaisalmer? I recommend Suryagarh, one of the best luxury hotels in all of India, or the Mandir Palace for a truly authentic heritage stay. Click here to see current rates and availability for Suryagarh Jaisalmer or click here to see current rates and availability at Mandir Palace!

Have more than 2 days in Jaisalmer? You might want to experience one of the luxury desert camps for a glamping stay under the stars – here are some highly rated options!

Where to go after Jaisalmer

Mehrangarh Fort and Blue City in Jodhpur India

Because of Jaisalmer’s location on the far west of India, it is not necessarily the easiest city to travel to. After your Jaisalmer trip you may want to head to the next closest major city in Rajasthan: Jodhpur, the Blue City. Jodhpur features the 15th century UNESCO-listed Mehrangarh Fort, visible from almost all corners of the city and standing proudly at 400 feet above the skyline. You can read my guide to spending 1 day in Jodhpur here.

You might also find these guides helpful:

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