The Lord Ayyappa Temple of Sabarimala, located in a forest in Pathanamthitta, is a hill shrine. The temple is situated on a hilltop at an altitude of 468 m (1535 ft) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. Vehicles going to Sabarimala are allowed only up to Pamba which is at a 5 kilometer distance from the temple. From here, visitors have to proceed by foot.

The temple is open during the pilgrim season known as mandala kaalam which falls approximately between 14th November to 27th December every year, and makaravilakku which falls in mid January each year. During this time it is estimated that about 45-50 million devotees visit the shrine of Ayyappa. The temple is also open for a few additional days every month.

There are strict traditional practices, rituals, preparations and dress codes meant for those intending to visit Sabarimala. In preparation for their visit, pilgrims wear black rudraksha beads around their neck, dress in black or blue mundus/dhotis and abstain from the consumption of non-vegetarian food and alcohol. They also take a vow to celibacy for the 40 days prior to their pilgrimage. Women in the menstruating age group of 10 to 60 are not permitted to visit Sabarimala.