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A Travel Guide To St Mary’s Island, Udupi

St Mary’s Island is a popular picnic destination among the locals of Udupi and Mangalore. However, it remains a hidden gem among those unfamiliar with the region. Here, we will learn more about the beautiful island.

St Mary’s Island in Udupi is located in the Arabian Sea, three kms off the shore of Malpe in Karnataka. It is a beautiful cluster of islands and is quite popular among the people of the surrounding areas. What is interesting about St Mary’s Island is that, as popular as it is among the locals, it is still pretty unknown to a lot of people who are left stunned by the beauty and uniqueness of the island when they finally do visit.

St Mary’s Island, a group of four islands, was, according to scientific records, formed by the sub-volcanic activity of Madagascar (in Africa) as the rock formations in both the places match. It is theorised that Madagascar was once part of India a few million years ago and that it got separated due to sub-volcanic activity. 

The columnar volcanic or basaltic rock formations at the island are a popular attraction and are so unique that St Mary’s Island, also referred to as Coconut Island, is one of the four places from Karnataka that is listed as one of the National Geoheritage Monuments of India.

According to local folklore, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama visited this island in 1498 before he moved on to Calicut. It is believed that the island gets its name from Vasco da Gama as he put a cross here and named the island O Padrao de Santa Maria for Mother Mary.

St Mary’s Island is uninhabited and is open for a certain period of time every day. The Islands are uninhabited primarily because they are small and scattered with basaltic rocks. Add to this, the islands can be dangerous if you are not careful, even when the seas that surround it are calm.

The main island measures about 1,640 feet in length and 328 feet in width. After the recent development work undertaken by the Karnataka Government, the island has become more visitor-friendly with the addition of changing rooms, public restrooms, selfie spots, and food stalls.

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An interesting feature of St Mary’s Island, apart from the volcanic rocks, is that one side of the island has a beach that is made entirely of shells, which is why it is known as Shell Beach. Here, you will find tons of shells and no sand at all!

The island’s climate reflects that of the neighbouring areas and it can get quite hot and humid in the summers. If it gets too hot for you, however, you can always cool off under the many coconut trees on the island. Additionally, you can also have some refreshing juice and food from the stalls or dip your toes in the water.

While there isn’t much to do on the island, people frequent the island just to explore and take in the beauty of the place. The only way to get to the island from the shore is a boat or ferry that operates at intervals during the day. The ride, although bumpy, can be quite fun as you can spot seagulls, Brahminy kites, and even dolphins (if you are lucky) on the way to and from the island. If you happen to be catching a ride from the island in the evening, you will get the added bonus of catching a beautiful sunset.

Also Read: 6 lesser-known beaches to visit in Udupi

What Is The Best Time To Visit St Mary’s Island?

October to January would be the best time to visit St Mary’s Island as the weather is pleasant and tolerable during this period. This is the optimal time to lounge on the shores or go exploring. You could also visit the island during summer; however, the area can get quite hot and uncomfortable. While it is not advisable to visit the island in the monsoons as the seas are dangerously rough at this time, this warning is moot as the island is closed to visitors during this period—June to September.

How Does One Get To St Mary’s Island?

The only way to get to St Mary’s Island is by ferry or boat. There are two ways to get to the island, from the fishing harbour in Malpe and from Malpe Beach itself. Ferries to and from the island operate from 9.30 AM to 5.30 PM, the same timings of the island. The closest airport is in Mangalore and is about 60 kms away from Udupi. The closest railway station is in Udupi.

From Udupi, you can take a local bus, autorickshaw, taxi or personal vehicle to Malpe Beach. Here you will find small boats that can carry about 12 to 14 people to and from the island. They  start operations at 9 AM. Tickets can cost around INR 300 per person.

Another way to reach the island is by taking a local bus, autorickshaw, or taxi to the Malpe bus stand. From here, you will have to walk for 1 km along the Malpe Harbour Road (if you have reached the bus stand by public transport) till you reach the boating office. If you are travelling via taxi or your personal vehicle, you can park near the boating office, purchase your ticket, and catch a boat to St Mary’s Island. They start operations at 10 AM, however, the ferries depart only when there are a minimum of 30 people. Tickets cost around INR 250 for adults and INR 150 for children.

Also Read: 15 of the most beautiful islands to visit in India

Some Places To Visit And Things To Do On St Marys Island

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Some interesting places to visit near St Mary’s Island are the Daria Bahadurgad Fort (about 1.5 kms from Malpe Beach), Vadabhandeshwara Temple (around 800 mts from Malpe Beach) and Malpe Beach itself. You can also visit Udupi city, which is about 6 kms from Malpe Beach if you want to go shopping.

The size of St Mary’s Island and the danger posed by the waters and rocks limit the number of activities that you can do. But, don’t be disheartened as there are quite a few activities you can do to pass the time. For those who wish to swim, the island has a designated swimming zone that is monitored by lifeguards in order to prevent any accidents. There are also other water sports like banana boat rides that are organised by various operators. The island’s unique landscape provides nature and adventure lovers with the opportunity to go beach trekking. A trek along the shores provides a satisfying experience. Near Shell Beach, there is a sort of canteen for those who want to grab a quick bite.

Keep These Things In Mind Before Visiting St Marys Island

Before visiting the island, make sure that you carry sunscreen, a hat or a cap, sunglasses, and plenty of drinking water. Also make sure that you wear beach-appropriate footwear like flip-flops, and not sneakers or other fancy footwear as it might get ruined.

Since the island is uninhabited and, therefore, there is no accommodation, you will have to stay in one of the many hotels in either Udupi or near Malpe Beach.

Also Read: The top 12 places to visit when in Udupi

Some FAQs To Get Better Acquainted With St Mary’s Island

1. Is St Mary’s Island Open?

St Mary’s Island timings are generally between 9.30 AM to 5.30 PM. However, it is closed during the monsoons, i.e from June to September.

2. How do you get to St Mary’s Island?

The only way to reach St Mary’s Island is by boat or ferry from either the Malpe Beach or the nearby fishing harbour.

3. What is the local name of St Mary’s Island near Malpe?

St Mary’s Island is also known as Coconut Island or Thonsepar by the locals.

4. How do you get to St Mary’s Island from Mangalore?

To get to St Mary’s Island from Mangalore, you can take a bus, taxi or your private vehicle to Malpe Beach and from here, you can take the ferry to the island.

5. What is St Mary’s Island boat timings and fare?

Ferries to and from St Mary’s Island operate between 9.30 AM and 5.30 PM. Ticket prices range from INR 250 to INR 300.

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