Jaisalmer is about as far west as most people get in India. It’s incredibly dry, hot and isolated. So what is it that brings people to a city a stone’s throw away from the Pakistan border? The ‘ Golden City’ as it has come to be known as a majestic place. A huge fort sits atop a hill in the center of the city, overlooking the sun-kissed houses. Sand dunes not far from the city are a tourist hotspot for camel safaris and jeep tours. There are so many great little spots I discovered and awesome things to do in Jaisalmer, the ‘Golden City’ of India.
How to reach Jaisalmer
Jodhpur to Jaisalmer: To reach Jaisalmer from Jodhpur the local bus cost 450 rupees and took just under five hours.. 400 rupees got us individual seats and ‘natural aircon’ aka a window. If you prefer a private transfer you can hire a car for about $40.
Book a private transfer: Jodhpur to Jaisalmer
Jaipur to Jaisalmer: The other option is a sleeper bus from Jaipur. Here you get a private little pod for the 9-hour journey. You can close a curtain and a glass door and enjoy the privacy of an almost 6ft long cushioned bed with a window and sometimes A/C. This overnight pod saves you paying for accommodation and cost 800 rupees.
Where to stay in Jaisalmer
I stayed at one of the coolest spots of my entire India trip. Pleasant Haveli Hotel has the best views looking straight out over the city towards Jaisalmer Fort from the rooftop cafe. Breakfast was only a few dollars and a huge spread. Each morning I enjoyed a big feed and a smoothie as I looked out over the city. The rooms and hotel itself were as modern as you will find in Jaisalmer, making our stay cool and comfortable.
Click Here to view prices and availability for Pleasant Haveli Hotel.
Best things to do in Jaisalmer
#1 Jaisalmer Fort
One of the first things to do in Jaisalmer is visiting the Jaisalmer Fort. Unlike many forts in India, which cost up to 800 rupees ($12-14) to enter, the Jaisalmer Fort is free to enter. This is because it is just like any other neighborhood, except inside an epic, historic fort. Therefore there is no closing or opening time, no guards and a relaxed atmosphere inside.
Normally a fort is teeming with tourists, guards, tickets and red tape but this feels much more like a community. We explored the entire fort looking inside the rustic gem shops, and the admiring the beautifully woven textiles and rugs. Shopping didn’t seem like one of the most popular things to do in Jaisalmer but crafts and textiles are for sale throughout India and they were beautifully made in Jaisalmer.
You won’t find it hard to end up at a cafe or restaurant on the edge of the fort with an epic view for dinner or sunset drinks. We tried a couple and didn’t find any amazing food but we were more interested in watching the sun come down over the ‘Golden City’.
There is a pretty awesome private city tour of Jaisalmer that shows you all of the best Haveli’s and gives you an extensive tour from within the fort. It is great to explore on your own but often with an English speaking guide, the experience can be much more in depth when you can learn about all of the history and local traditions about the area.
This tour includes:
- Hotel pick-up and drop off
- Raj Mahal Palace
- Jain Temples
- The Laxminath temple
- Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli
#2 Jain Temple
Inside the Jaisalmer Fort is the Jain Temple. There are many throughout India but I’ve only been inside the Jaisalmer Temple. What I can tell you is that if they are all as spectacularly detailed and intricate as the Jaisalmer Jain Temple, you should visit the one closest to you. The minute details inside the multi-roomed, multi-level temple are phenomenal. I studied one wall for what seemed like an eternity unable to fathom the person chipping away carving such an awesome piece of work. Hundreds of Buddhas sit throughout the temple.
It is a little hidden away but is near the main parking lot and there are multiple signs and helpful shopkeepers to point you in the right direction. The Jaisalmer Fort is a bit of a maze but sometimes it’s nice to get lost anyway. Visiting Jain Temple really is one of the best activities in Jaisalmer.
There is actually an early morning tour that guides you through the Jain Temple explaining the history and meaning behind the artifacts and designs of this beautiful temple. It is quite short and a great way to start your day. It’s also less than $15 so a really cheap tour!
BOOK A TOUR: Early morning Jain Temple Tour
#3 Bada Bagh
We rented a motorbike and set off towards Bada Bagh from the city center. It only took us about 15 minutes driving towards the huge wind turbines to find the temple site. Bada Bagh translates to ‘big garden’.
The entrance fee was 100 rupees and not a single tourist was at the site when we arrived in mid-morning. Essentially Bada Bagh is a cemetery. Years ago the founder of Jaisalmer commissioned a dam to create a water tank to be built at the site, which meant it was the only green area in the region at times during the year. It is also the reason why there is a lake next to Bada Bagh, seemingly in the middle of a huge desert. This is how it earnt the name Bada Bagh or ‘Big Garden’. The Maharajah had a cenotaph built for his father atop the hill and many more cenotaphs more followed after for important figures. A cenotaph is a small temple or tribute statue for a deceased relative. This was one of the most unique things to do in Jaisalmer.
Explore Bada Bagh was incredibly peaceful and a great place to sit and think about life, death, India, how hot it was and how lucky I am.
#4 Gadi Sagar Lake
We woke up before sunrise hoping for some color and nice vibes around the Gadi Sagar Lake, but we were also up early to escape the relentless Jaisalmer sun. Alas, there was not much of sunrise but we watched old men relaxing by the lakeside, played with stray dogs and then watched the giant catfish of the lake get some chapati from the locals.
Temples sit out in the water, almost as if they were floating and the sound of traffic from the city is too far to break the serenity. Visiting Gadi Sagar Lake would be rated as one of the best things to do in Jaisalmer for sunrise in my opinion. Hanging out on the walls of the fort for sunrise could be epic also.
#5 Rooftop Cafe
There are many to choose from. In fact, it is harder to find a cafe inside of a building than to enjoy the views from on top. Our accommodation, Hotel Pleasant Haveli, had an awesome setup with comfy, colorful couches and a good array of food. Having dinner at one of the rooftop restaurants is a must do activity in Jaisalmer.
My other favorite was Cafe the Kaku, which had stunning views and a perfect spot for a drone launch.
Within the fort we tried Gaji’s Restaurant and Kuku Cafe, both had great views and good coffee. The friendly staff is a constant in Jaisalmer so you can expect a friendly smile no matter which rooftop you end up on. Finding a good view each night isn’t a hard feat and one of the fun things to do in Jaisalmer each day.
#6 Haveli Hunting
A haveli is essentially a mansion and when rich people build, they do it in style. Haveli’s are usually detailed exquisite exteriors and are a sight to behold. There are many Haveli’s to explore in Jaisalmer and we were asked to pay to enter inside them but decided our view from the outside was good enough. You will find Haveli’s throughout the city but if you are looking for them specifically, my favorite was the Patwaon-Ki-Haveli.
#7 Camel Safari in the Sand Dunes
While exploring the Golden City it’s likely you will be offered a camel safari in Jaisalmer. It’s the most popular tourist attraction in the western region of Rajasthan. The Sam Sand Dunes are on the outskirts of Jaisalmer in the Desert National Park provide the perfect landscape for slow-paced trekking and escaping the city.
I spent three days and two nights sleeping in the sand dunes under the stars on my camel safari. It was one of the highlights from my three months in India. It was incredibly hot, isolated and barren. However, this is what made it so epic. Our guide Sambu started a fire with sticks he would find before each meal. Making chai, chapati, and curry from scratch in the heat of the desert was an amazing feat to watch. This would be my number one recommendation of things to do in Jaisalmer!
There are a few ways to experience a camel safari in Jaisalmer. You can go for a half-day camel trek, overnight trek or a three-day trek. It really depends on your preference. I would advise only adventurous people to do several day journeys as it can be a bit uncomfortable and hot at times but very fun. I have put down below several of the best available tour options to book your very own camel safari depending on how long you want to spend in the desert. The half-day tour can be less than $30 while the overnight treks depend on the quality of the camping and sleeping arrangements.
Recommended Day Tour: Half-day camel safari Tour
Recommended Overnight Tour: Overnight Camel Safari Tour
Recommended Three Day Tour: Three Day Camel Safari Tour
To read the full blog post about my camel safari in Jaisalmer and see all of the epic photos Click Here
There are plenty of other Havelis’, temples and even a so-called ghost village. However, I had one week to explore all of the things to do in Jaisalmer and the camel safari took a few days so these sights were the places I chose to visit.