St Mary’s island Udupi – A national geological monument off Malpe Beach

With a quick swig, he emptied the coconut shell. Discarding the shell, he picked a holy cross and fixed it close to the shore. He whispered - "Padrao de Sante Maria" and with that, he turned and left the isle for his final destination. Little did he know that his whispered words would make the island famous as St. Mary's Island Udupi.

Standing on Malpe beach, as I looked over the Arabian Sea, I spotted the coconut island that has now been labelled as the national geological monument by the Geological Survey of India. Personally, that is enough of a reason for me to want to visit the Udupi St Mary’s Island. Turns out there is more to St Mary’s Island Malpe than just the geological aspect. Discovered by Vasco Da Gama, the St Mary’s Island in Udupi makes a lovely day outing for anyone who loves beaches.

St Mary's Island Udupi - off the shores of Malpe beach
St Mary’s Island Udupi – off the shores of Malpe beach

I had first visited this Udupi island in early 2000. Even then I was quite charmed with it but at that point, it was a little unkempt. My recent visit during the Coastal Karnataka trip organized by India Tourism Bengaluru showed me how things had changed at St Mary’s Island Udupi. The Udupi island is now better organized for visitors, thus making your half-day trip here quite pleasant and worthwhile. With this travel guide to St Mary’s Island Udupi, you will not just learn about the history of this Udupi island, what are the things to do on St Mary’s island but will get all your questions answered for your own trip here. So let’s get going.

If you are in Udupi, you should check out the Hasta Shilpa heritage village. This offbeat destination is a treasure trove of culture, preserved as actual homes that were transplanted from their original locations to the newly created village. You can see the original Deccan Nawab palace as well as woodwork from the Vijaynagara era. Go on and check it out

An overview of Udupi St Mary’s Island

Coconut island - the main Udupi St Mary's Island
Coconut island – the main Udupi St Mary’s Island

Well, technically St Mary’s island is an archipelago of four small isles. These are just off the coast of Malpe, a 15 – 20 minutes by boat from the shore. Prominent among them is the large isle with tons of coconut trees. This set of trees gives this land the name Coconut island. It is also, called Thonsepar in the local language. All your ferries will get you to Coconut Island. The other three islands are generally, not visited and are named North Island, South Island and Dariya Bahadurgarh island.

The islands are filled with numerous basalt, volcanic rocks that have been termed as columnar joints or Laminar Lava. These rocks are one of their kind in India – only found on St. Mary’s Island Malpe. Why only here, what makes them special and how was the Udupi St Mary’s island discovered forms the next part of this post.

History of St Mary’s Island Udupi

The volcanic rocks that make St Mary's island Malpe a national geological monument
The volcanic rocks that make St Mary’s island Malpe a national geological monument

Scientifically, the history of St. Mary’s island India goes back to 88 million years. They say that the island was a result of a break-away from Madagascar due to a sub-volcanic activity. The same volcanic activity resulted in lava flowing out to create the very rocks that have made this Udupi island a popular geotourist destination.

We would not have discovered this unusual set of rocks, had it not been for Vasco Da Gama. He stopped at this island in 1498, enroute to Kozhikode. The famous voyager set a cross and dedicated it to Mother Mary with the words – Padrao de Santa Maria (Blessed Mother Mary). This christened the island as St Mary’s Island.

What are the attractions of St Mary’s Island Udupi?

St Mary's island beach
St Mary’s island beach

The tiny island is uninhabited even today. It is actually just around 500 m in size with coconut trees growing naturally in the middle. There is no line of shops no hawkers or vehicles. The water around the island is super clear but there is only a very small area where you can swim. So, what then can you really do here? Well, that is precisely the question I will answer in this section of the key attractions of St. Mary’s Island Udupi.

The basalt rocks on St Mary’s island Malpe

The Basalt columns at St Mary's Island Udupi
The Basalt columns at St Mary’s Island Udupi

Seems a little obvious since I have been harping about the reason why the St Mary’s island Udupi has been given the national geological monument status. You will find them along the shores of this Udupi island in all sizes but not really shapes. Shape-wise they are like polygonal columns – which is what makes the unique. Look around to see fascinating mounts and try and spot the tallest one. I believe it is as high as 6 meters.

Are these the tall columns the biggest ones on St Mary's island ?
Are these the tall columns the biggest ones on St Mary’s island ?

As you explore them, you will find some shaded ones and then some that protrude out to give icicle feel. A few enclose small pools and then there are some which are like flat beds on which you can walk and enjoy the misty spray of the waves.

Shaded laminar lava rocks at Udupi St Mary's island
Shaded laminar lava rocks at Udupi St Mary’s island
Rock icicles - that is what these ones looked like at St. Mary's island Udupi
Rock icicles – that is what these ones looked like at St. Mary’s island Udupi

The shell beach of St. Mary’s island Udupi

The shell beach at St Mary's Island Malpe
The shell beach at St Mary’s Island Malpe

If it is not the basalt rocks on Udupi St. Mary’s island, then it is a beach full of shells. Myriads of them will poke you if you attempt to walk barefoot on this part of the island – which is why you should not. However, with a pair of crocs or reef shoes, you will be good to walk around and hunt the choicest of colors on this shell-filled beach. The challenge – Get the biggest unbroken one in the heap of tiny ones.

Mesmerizing sunset over Arabian Sea

Sunrise over Arabian sea as seen from the Udupi island
Sunrise over Arabian sea as seen from the Udupi island

No matter what time you go to the Udupi St Mary’s island, try and catch the sunset. I did so on my first visit while on the 2nd one, I got to see an equally mesmerizing sunrise. Of course, the 2nd visit was by invite and hence, the early hours of the day. Most likely, you will not be able to get to the island for the sunrise as the official ferries only ply from 9:30 am until 5:30 pm – making sunset possible for you to enjoy.

The sea looks mesmerizing as the you sit under a coconut tree and walk the sun being swallowed but not before it has cast a golden glow over the water and the basalt rocks.

The residents of St Mary’s island Udupi

A cormorant drying itself on the rocks at Udupi St Mary's Island
A cormorant drying itself on the rocks at Udupi St Mary’s Island

Resident? But you just said it was uninhabited?

Well, it is. Uninhabited by humans but it does have its share of resident birds and crustaceans. In the little time that I was at St Mary’s Island Malpe, I saw many seagulls and Brahminy kites. I even caught a cormorant drying his feathers on the basalt rocks. There were a few egrets swooping around and I am sure if I had stayed longer, I would have been able to spot more of the resident birds that this signboard on the island lists out. (check the top left corner)

The map of St Mary's Island India
The map of St Mary’s Island India

Crabs – plenty of them can be found on the rocks. Some of them are so camouflaged and are honestly spotted only by their size. I did spend a few minutes watching them skuttle around and get washed by the waves, only to see them grip the edges and climb up again. They definitely gave me lessons on determination and resilence.

Close up of one of the crabs that I saw at St Mary's island Udupi
Close up of one of the crabs that I saw at St Mary’s island Udupi

Natural frames that you can capture

Picturesque settings at St Mary's island in Karnataka
Picturesque settings at St Mary’s island in Karnataka

Between the rocks, the coconut trees, the peeping sun, the waves splashing and the shells on the shore, there is enough for you to get clicking. Not surprised if you get bitten by a shutterbug when you land at the St Mary’s island Udupi. Here is a camera challenge – sit by one of those famed rocks and wait for the biggest wave to hit them. Time your shot to capture some of those sea splashes. Try it once and you will realize how addictive this challenge can be.

Landscape from the Coconut island
Landscape from the Coconut island

St Mary’s island is a perfect place to plan a picnic. Where else will you get time away from civilization and yet stay close to it, enjoy the sea breeze and yet not get so tanned – thanks to the coconut groves, watch the waves and learn a few lessons, do nothing and yet do lots. So go on, and pin this for your next visit.

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How do you get to St. Mary’s Island?

The best way to get to St Mary’s Island is to first get to Udupi. The nearest airport to Udupi is in Mangalore – just 55 km away. From Mangalore, you can either get into a bus, a train or even hire a cab straight for Udupi. The frequency of public buses is very good, there is one almost every 30 minutes.

Once in Udupi, you can hire a local auto or get into the bus for Malpe beach. You will find regular ferries to St. Mary’s island between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm every day, except between the months of June to September – i.e Monsoons. During these four months, the island is closed for public.

Is St Mary’s island open?

St Mary’s island is open through the year except in monsoons – i.e between June to September. Owing to the rains and the tides, the island remains closed for that part of the year.

How can I book a ferry for St Mary’s island?

Ferries to St. Mary’s island have now been tendered to private operators and can be booked at the ticket counters on Malpe beach. The counters are located near Paradise isle on Malpe beach. The details are available on this website.

All ferries operate between 9:30 am and 5 pm and the charges for the same are around INR 250 per adult. It is a 15 -20 minutes ride from the shore. On a week-day, you might have to wait for the ferry to get full (a minimum of 10-15 people). On weekends, the wait is considerably shorter.

What is the contact number for St. Mary’s Island?

As per the board displayed on St Mary’s island, you can get in touch with the Island office on +91 7204009927. In addition to this contact, you can even use the following numbers –
Tourism Department – +91 820 2574868
Malpe Police Station – +91 820 2547999
Island Authority – +91 9742507270

Are there any resorts at St Mary’s island Udupi?

No, there are no resorts or hotels or stays at the St Mary’s island Udupi. You can only do a day trip here from Malpe beach in Udupi.

Travel Tips

  • There is a small shop that sells packed food like chips and biscuits on St Mary’s islands. In addition to that, there is a small canteen with a limited menu. It is best to pack your own food and water when heading to the island
  • Plastic bottles and wrappers are prohibited on the island. Remember to pack your food and water in reusable containers and not single-use plastic ones.
  • Restrooms are available on the island
  • The island has been developed to include small shades and park benches for you to relax.
  • Remember to swim only in the designated areas of the island. The rest of the shore is not safe.

Booking Resources

  • You can book your hotel in Udupi or Manipal through Booking.com using the given link.
  • For any local tours, transfers and stays in the Coastal Karnataka region, you can get in touch with Ms. Poonam of Dream holidays, Manipal on +91 9686574959 or Mr. Roshan Pinto of RR Travels on +91 9845331926. They are specialists in this region and can arrange for a flawless travel experience here.
  • If you use Amazon for shopping for travel or any of your home needs, do consider using this link.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.

P.S : I visited St Mary’s Island as a part of the Coastal Karnataka trip for which I was invited by Ministry of Tourism, India – Bengaluru.

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20 thoughts on “St Mary’s island Udupi – A national geological monument off Malpe Beach”

  1. Wow, these photos are so beautiful! Would love to visit St. Mary’s Island. It looks so secluded and peaceful, and visiting somewhere uninhabited by humans is always so refreshing & regrounding.

    Reply
  2. What a wonderful island! I have never heard about St Marys island Udupi before – but that is why I read travel blogs: To learn about new things. I would love to relax on one of the beaches after exploring the area with the basalt columns. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. I would be intrigued by an island labelled as the “coconut” island. And I am a bit of a rock geek. But would definitely be drawn for the beaches. The basalt column reminded me of my visit to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. So cool to find them in so many places. Great that work has been done to improve the island for visitors. Definitely looks like a great day trip.

    Reply
    • Well, I can imagine why it was called coconut island 🙂 and since you like rocks, you sure will love this place. Hope you can visit our beautiful country sometime.

      Reply
  4. I’ve heard much about St.Mary’s island but I’ve not yet had a chance to visit the place. After reading your Udupi series, looks like I need quite a long trip to Udupi to see it all. Interesting to know about its connection to Vasco da Gama. I’m quite surprised that it is not yet commercialized, and I really hope I could visit here before it gets filled with commercial establishments & hawkers & just rubbish.

    Reply
    • Unlikely that this will be commercialized given the small area and the proximity to the shore. However, it sure has been cleaned up and now I highly recommend it. Hope you can get to it soon.

      Reply
  5. st. Mary’s is such a beautiful island! In fact, I understand it’s an archipelago of four islands. So peaceful and secluded and yet close to civilization. I didn’t realize there are tropical beaches in India, but I see there are coconut trees on these islands. Interesting to learn it was discovered by Vasco de Gama.

    Reply
    • We have a huge coastline (7500 km) and sadly, the only popular place is Goa. However, if you just go around the coast, you will find these non-commercialized gems. I highly recommend visiting them

      Reply
  6. I love everything about this small island. From afar, it looks like in the movie when people trying to get into the island. The coconut trees in the middle made it looks beautiful. Then I like the rock formation, as well as the animals that live there.

    Reply
  7. What a beautiful place and with so much history. It was interesting to read about it. I especially loved the basalt rock formations. I have seen something similar in Iceland and in California (Devil’s Postipile) and they were amazing. I didn’t know that there are even more of these rocks in the world. This would be a great place to visit.

    Reply
    • Time to get here soon. I hope that once travel bans are lifted, India gets onto your list and you visit this amazing little isle along with the other interesting places.

      Reply
  8. I have been to Mangalore many times but that was quite sometime back. I remember my colleagues mentioning about St.Mary’s Island and asking me to take a day off every time so that they could take me there. And I would say next time which never happened. Love the deserted feel about it. And the rock formations look so beautiful. Happy to visit through your eyes. Lovely pics too.

    Reply
  9. I was in Kerala and even a little of Karnataka but haven’t heard about St Marys Island Udupi. It seems to be a beautiful and exciting place. I would love to come back to southern India, so I hope to visit this place next time. The basalt columns are fabulous!

    Reply

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