THE BEST OF SOUTHERN INDIA

KERALA TRAVEL GUIDE TO BEACHES, BACKWATERS AND MORE

Kerala is what we would call the gateway to India for first-timers. Stretching over 590kms along the Arabian Sea, this alluring Indian state has it all. From secluded beaches, relaxing backwaters to tea plantations, there is something for every sun lover to enjoy.

Tourism is mainly focused in the south of Kerala where the capital city, Thiruvananthapuram or easier known as Trivandrum, is located. This is also where some of Kerala’s more popular beaches are. You’ll also discover plenty of museums, palaces and the 16th-century Padmanabhaswamy temple filled with hidden treasures in its chamber.

Head upwards around 150kms along the coast and you will reach Alleppey (also known as Alappuzha). This is where you’ll find the gateway of Kerala’s famous backwaters – made up of a network of rivers, lakes, lagoons and canals. A little further up north is the busy port of Kochi (formerly known as Cochin). The charming colonial quarter of Kochi, Fort Kochi, lies on the northern end of the peninsula and draws many tourists in.

Kannur is the northernmost district of Kerala and this is where you’ll find less tourists due to its remoteness. However, things are about to change with the soon-to-be open Kannur International Airport in December 2018.

The spice trade brought in many foreign traders and settlers to Kerala. You’ll see some distinct Chinese, Portuguese, Arabian, Dutch and British influences all around the state in architecture, religious beliefs and cultural heritage. Hindus, Jewish, Muslims and Christians have been living in harmony here for centuries. However, the Hindus have largely contributed towards the most vibrant aspects of Kerala’s cultural life.

Kathakali dancers in full costume and makeup
Kathakali Performance
Theyyam performance full costume in red makeup
Theyyam Performance

 

The traditional and locally known Kathakali dance originated during the 17th century.  It uses refined gestures and ornate singing to convey the story instead of dialogue. You’ll probably come across this dance at your hotel or tourist venues throughout your time in Kerala.  If you’re after something equally as enchanting but less commercialised, check out the performance called Theyyam. There are numerous Hindu temple festivals throughout the year around Kerala with elephants being the center of attention. The most spectacular temple festival is the annual Thrissur Pooram, which takes place during April or May.

 

KERALA TRAVEL GUIDE

 

KERALA’S TOP BEACHES

South Kerala

mosque and palm trees along Kovalam Beach
Grow Beach on Kovalam

Kerala’s most popular beaches are found in the south. Situated just 16kms south-east of Trivandrum, Kovalam has three major beaches along its coastline : Lighthouse Beach, Hawa Beach and Grow Beach. Lighthouse Beach is the longest and most popular strip with plenty of affordable beach resorts, cafes and restaurants. Hawa Beach is known for its laid-back atmosphere and white sand. Grow Beach houses more upscale resorts and you’ll find fishermen bringing in their nets almost every morning.

view from the top of the cliff looking down at Varkala Beach
View of Varkala Beach from the clifftop

Varkala Beach (Papanasam Beach) is one of Kerala’s best cliff beach. The landscape surrounding this golden sand beach is truly breathtaking with towering red laterite cliffs bordering the beach. Perched atop the cliffs are beach resorts, ayurveda spas, restaurants and cafes. There is a very hippie vibe to Varkala Beach which reflects the laid-back charm of this area.

Central Kerala

calm waves ont he golden shores of cherai beach
Serene Cherai Beach

Just 20kms away from Cochin International Airport is Cherai Beach. Imagine over 10kms of soft golden sand, warm sea water with paddy fields and coconut groves behind. Cherai Beach is one of the cleanest beaches in Central Kerala and attracts mostly local tourists who only come for the sunset and to have an evening swim. For sun seekers, this is the perfect beach to work on your tan during the day in total tranquility. There are various accommodation options as well as numerous restaurants along the seaside.

North Kerala

car driving on the beach on Muzhappilangad in Kerala
Drive-in Beach – Photo: Kerala Tourism

For something different, why not drive right on Muzhappilangad Beach – Kerala’s only drive-in beach.  Approximately 7km from Thalassery in Kannur, there is a 4 km stretch of sand that you can literally drive on as you take in the views of the beautiful Malabar Coast. Surrounded by black rocks, this beach is protected from the strong ocean currents of the Arabian Sea, making it safe to swim in.

view of Bekal Fort Beach from the fort
View of Bekal Fort Beach from Bekal Fort

Bekal Fort Beach in Kasaragod is undoubtedly one of the cleanest beaches in North Kerala. The view of Fort Bekal on the right corner makes this beach a popular sunset-watching destination. During the day, the wide sandy beach is deserted whereas during the evenings, it tends to get crowded, especially with the children’s play area and sunset camel rides. There is a small entry fee of 10INR (0.12€/ USD$0.14/ £0.10) for ages 5 and above.

 

SCENIC BACKWATERS

Alleppey

houseboats parked in alleppey
Houseboats in Alleppey

Known as “Venice of the East” because of its waterways, Alleppey has the peculiar geographical feature of having the water in level with the land. This gives the advantage of getting a closer look at the village life on shore while on a backwater cruise on board a houseboat. The houseboats you find in the backwaters of Alleppey are in fact a modern version of the Kettuvallams of olden times. Kettuvallam is a Malayalam word, ‘Kettu’, means living structures and ‘Vallam’ means boat. In the olden days, kettuvallam or a boat with a thatched roof that covers over wooden hulls was used to carry rice and spices. These days, the houseboats are fully equipped with air-conditioned bedrooms, a lounge area, kitchen and modern bathrooms. You can rent houseboats for a day trip or an overnight experience with a personal chef cooking up local food for you. However, the most rewarding experience on a cruise through these waterways is seeing a part of rural Kerala that is inaccessible by road. You drift along canals lined with coconut trees, paddy fields and local houses. 

Spice Routes offers its guests a truly luxurious experience on board their houseboats with well-planned routes to get the best out of your cruise. For more details, click here.

Kumarakom

Birds on tree branch during the sunrise on Lake Vembanad
Birds watching the sunrise on Lake Vembanad

Unlike Alleppey, Kumarakom is even more rural but is filled with a wide variety of flora and fauna. This sleepy backwater village on Lake Vembanad houses the famous Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary that spreads across 14 acres of land. You’ll see many migratory and local birds including the Siberian stork and the blue kingfisher. On a houseboat cruise, you’ll be greeted by lush mangrove forests, paddy fields and plenty of coconut trees while enjoying the cool breeze from the lake. 

coconut lagoon resort heritage rooms with houseboat in Lake Vembanad in the background
Coconut Lagoon Resort facing Lake Vembanad

For those who want to spend more time on land than in a houseboat, Kumarakom offers a range of hotels and resorts around. Among the accommodation options is Coconut Lagoon Resort. This charming eco-friendly resort sits on the banks of Lake Vembanad and is the perfect place to get away from it all.

 

TEA PLANTATIONS & SPICE FARMS

munnar tea plantation leafy green hill with a tree on top
Tea Plantation in Munnar

Munnar was the favoured summer retreat of the erstwhile British rulers in the colonial days who introduced tea to Kerala in the 1890s.  Today, it is South India’s largest tea-growing region. Head up north to the town of Munnar for walks among the rolling hills and discover how tea is processed. At an altitude of about 6000 feet, you’re up above the clouds surrounded by lush forests, waterfalls, valleys and mountains.

selection of colourful indian spices
Indian Spices and Teas

The cool climate in Munnar is also where Kerala’s spices thrive. You can collect various spices from here like ginger, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, coffee, clove, nutmeg and more from the spice farms around the area.

 

FORT KOCHI & SURROUNDINGS

fishermen next to chinese fishing nets in kochi
Chinese Fishing Nets

The harbour city of Kochi was once a major trading point for spices and has been drawing traders, explorers and travellers in for over 600 years. The Arabs, British, Chinese, Dutch, Italians and Portuguese helped Kochi emerge as a bustling centre of commercial activity, connecting the mainland to the rest of the world. As such, you’ll find glimpses of Kochi’s glorious past through its massive Chinese Fishing Nets, Jewish Synagogues, Portuguese Forts, Dutch Palaces, ancient mosques and British colonial homes all in one place.

Fort Kochi

street art around fort kochi with cyclist
Fort Kochi Street – Photo: India Fashion Summit

Right in the heart of Kochi lies Fort Kochi. Fort Kochi is a lovely seaside town made up of quaint cobblestone streets, vibrant markets, trendy cafes and old stately houses that have been converted into restaurants and boutique hotels. Steeped in history, the St Francis Church, where Vasco da Gama was originally buried in 1524 and the British-built Cochin Club of the early 1900s can also be found in Fort Kochi.

If you’re searching for a proper fort, you’ll find none in sight here. Fort Kochi is neither a walled city nor does it have a fort of its own. However, it was a fortified city back in the days before the walls started crumbling and some eventually dismantled.

Mattancherry

girl coming out of a curio antiques shop in Jew Town Mattancherry Kochi
Antique shop in Jew Street – Photo: Kerala Tourism

In the 16th century the Raja of Kochi gave sanctuary to Jews fleeing Portuguese persecution in Goa. This is why you’ll see traces of Jewish legacy around Mattancherry including a Jewish Synagogue decorated with Chinese tiles and Belgian chandeliers. A favourite haunt for antique buyers, Jew Town is a narrow street lined with shops offering shoppers a variety of spices, clothes, trinkets and curios. However, most of the Jewish community have long since decamped to Palestine and the area is now filled with Kashmiri traders.

The Mattancherry Palace, also known as Dutch Palace was originally built by the Portuguese. The palace has a fine collection of mural paintings depicting scenes from the Hindu epics Mahabharatha and Ramayana.

Bolgatty Island

Bolgatty palace facade
Bolgatty Palace – Photo: KTDC

Bolgatty Island is a picturesque island located close to Fort Kochi. The island was made popular by its quaint palace that sits on the southern end of the island. The Bolgatty Palace was built by a Dutch trader in 1744 and eventually taken over by the British. Overlooking Lake Vembanad, this is one of the oldest Dutch palaces outside of The Netherlands.

The Kochi International Marina is also situated on Bolgatty Island. It is the only marina of its type in India and can host up to 34 yachts providing water, electricity and sewage pump-out facilities.

A new addition to Bolgatty Island is one of the bext luxury hotel’s in Kochi: Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty. Perched on 26 acres of plush green land on the island, this luxurious waterfront urban resort overlooks the backwaters of Lake Vembanad.

 

HOW TO GET TO KERALA

By Air

Kerala has four international airports.

Cochin International Airport (COK) serves the city of Kochi and is the busiest and largest airport in Kerala with domestic and international flights. Commercial airlines that fly into Cochin International Airport are: Air Arabia, Air Asia, Air Asia India, Air India Express, Alliance Air, Emirates, Etihad Airways, flydubai, GoAir, Gulf Air, IndiGO, Jazeera Airways, Jet Airways, Kuwait Airways, Malindo Air, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Scoot, SilkAir, SpiceJet, Sri Lankan Airlines, Thai Airways and Vistara.

Trivandrum International Airport (TRV) serves the southern district of Thiruvananthapuram and nearby cities. It is the first ever airport in Kerala with domestic and international flights. Commercial airlines that fly into Trivandrum International Airport are: Air Arabia, Air India, Air India Express, Emirates, Etihad Airways, flydubai, Gulf Air, IndiGO, Jet Airways, Kuwait Airways, Maldivian, Malindo Air, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Saudia, Silk Air, SpiceJet and Sri Lankan Airlines.

Calicut International Airport (CCJ), also known as Karipur Airport, serves the northern Kerala cities of Kozhikode, Kannur, Palakkad, Wayanad and Malappuram. Commercial airlines that fly into Calicut International Airport are: Air Arabia, Air India, Air India Express, Etihad Airways, Gulf Air, IndiGO, Jet Airways, Oman Air, Qatar Airways and SpiceJet.

Kannur International Airport (CNN), will serve the northern district of Kannur. It is scheduled to open for operations on 09 December 2018.

 

By Train

Kerala has more than 200 railway stations, connecting major cities as well as small towns around the state. There are direct trains to various destinations in Kerala from major Indian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, and Kolkata, among others. Kerala’s local railway network runs from Kasargod in the north to Thiruvananthapuram in the south.

By Road

Kerala is connected to most nearby states via National Highways 17, 47 and 49. Luxury overnight buses, some with built-in bathrooms, are available from destinations such as Alleppey, Kannur, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Thrissur, Kozhikode, Palakkad, Wayanad and Thiruvananthapuram to other cities across the state. There is also Uber, Uber Intercity and Ola for those who prefer a safer, trackable option to get around.

CLICK HERE FOR PRICES FOR TRAINS, BUSES, FERRIES & CHARTERS IN KERALA

 

We hope that our Kerala Travel Guide will help you plan your sun-seeking trip to the tropical land of coconuts. Let us know if you have any other places you’d like to recommend in the comments below.

 

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Kerala Travel Guide Pinterest cover

 

 

 

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45 thoughts on “THE BEST OF SOUTHERN INDIA

KERALA TRAVEL GUIDE TO BEACHES, BACKWATERS AND MORE”

  • November 10, 2018 at 10:18 am
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    I’ve never really thought of Kerala but it sounds like there’s heaps to do. I like the idea of having a new to India destination to acclimatise to the country. Very helpful detailed post.

    Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 6:17 am
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    Thanks for sharing perfect guide on Kerala. I have been to Kerala three times and every times it was like a unique place to me. South Kerala, North Kerala and their hilltops all are great to visit. I still remember Bekal fort, Kovalam beach, Munnar, Chinese fishing nets and many more natural wonders in Kerala.

    Reply
  • November 10, 2018 at 5:13 am
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    Thank you for this! Kerala looks and sounds amazing. We love being at the sea and definitely need to go to India.

    Reply
  • November 9, 2018 at 10:11 pm
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    Hahaha! There is a place called Kerala in Finland. And I was like whaaaaat? Beaches there. It is middle of nowhere..

    Reply
  • November 9, 2018 at 8:30 pm
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    For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to take a houseboat in Alleppey. It just looks divine… as does everything else you’ve mentioned in this post! I’ll dream for a couple of years until I think the kids are old enough to go… then we’re off to explore Kerala. You’ve inspired me!

    Reply
  • November 9, 2018 at 5:16 pm
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    I would love to see all these attractions in this amazing country. Thanks for sharing, through your blog I can see the beauty of this place that it’s so far from where I live 🙂

    Reply
  • November 9, 2018 at 4:23 pm
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    Kerala is my favorite state in India to have the feel of scenic backwaters and panoramic beaches.

    Reply
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  • November 9, 2018 at 8:30 am
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    We love a good beach and so this will be so helpful for when we visit Kerala. We’re hoping to visit in the next couple of years so will be saving this. Thank you!

    Reply
  • November 9, 2018 at 2:59 am
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    I thought Kerala is still recovering from flood but now I can see it’s green signal to go there.

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    • November 9, 2018 at 1:10 pm
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      They recovered very quickly as the entire community came together to rebuilt their state. We were there less than a month after the flood and everything was back to normal.

      Reply
  • November 8, 2018 at 10:33 pm
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    Bolgatty Island sounds awesome! I loved your photos, it’s such an incredible and amazing culture.
    It is definitely worth visiting.

    Reply
  • November 8, 2018 at 4:01 pm
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    Kerala is one of my fav travel destination and i loved reading about these places. Munnar looks like dream, and bekal fort is thrilling.

    Reply
  • November 8, 2018 at 3:33 pm
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    This is a fantastic guide for Kerala! I’m a fan of anywhere on the water, so I’m sure I’d love this destination.

    Reply
  • November 8, 2018 at 3:03 pm
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    Oh my gosh, I so have to visit this place! The beaches look wonderful and I absolutely have to see the Kathakali Performance – I love shows like that. Thank you for the inspiration and the informative post!

    Reply
  • November 8, 2018 at 1:57 pm
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    Thanks for the great to the Southern India, especially I loved Cherai Beach in Central Kerala. That’s amazing how you can just walk along the beach and there are no buildings, nothing’s in your way – it’s really a luxury nowadays!

    Reply
  • November 8, 2018 at 1:33 pm
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    Loved reading this. Brought back happy memories of my time in Kerala, so much more chilled that Rajasthan.

    Reply
  • November 8, 2018 at 11:28 am
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    I have always been fascinated by India but for several reasons I have never been able to visit it. Do you think Kerale would be a suitable region to visit with young kids?

    Reply
    • November 8, 2018 at 12:51 pm
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      Kerala is generally safe and we did see many families travelling with young children in Fort Kochi. Most hotels are even kid-friendly such as the Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty ( https://sunstylefiles.com/best-luxury-hotel-in-kochi-grand-hyatt-kochi-bolgatty ). There are plenty of museums, boat rides and activities around the region that will keep young children engaged. Just be careful with the beaches as there are undercurrents and strong waves in certain areas.

      Reply
  • November 8, 2018 at 8:06 am
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    It is amazing how you have detailed and explained everything here. I am dying to go to India and Kerala can be a great option!!! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • November 8, 2018 at 3:26 am
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    Thank you for sharing! I’ve never been to India, but for me the first associations would not be about beach. However, it’s such a big country with such a variety of regions and climates – I would love to go there one day.

    Reply
  • November 7, 2018 at 8:19 pm
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    Really detailed and amazing guide post. That is one big tea plantation they have. You even list all kinds of transportation on how to get there.

    Reply
    • November 8, 2018 at 1:49 pm
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      we try to cover as much information as possible to answer most of the common questions asked! Good to know that it helps 🙂

      Reply
  • November 7, 2018 at 3:17 pm
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    Kerala was always in my heart. I couldn’t be able to visit because of the season. And I loved your guide a lot. It will be my guide when I travel to Kerala. Thanks a lot! I hope I can see Katkahali performance as well

    Reply
    • November 8, 2018 at 1:47 pm
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      Most hotels put on a Kathakali performance so you’ll definitely get a chance to see it when you get there! Do let us know if you need any other tips or advice when you do decide to go to Kerala. It’s a great place to practise yoga as well!

      Reply
  • November 7, 2018 at 1:51 pm
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    This is so interesting! I’ve read lots of travel blog posts on India but never one that included beaches- so I’ve never thought much of India as being a beach destination. But these beaches are gorgeous!

    Reply
  • November 7, 2018 at 1:47 pm
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    I’m not very familiar with that part of the globe. At least not yet 😉 Thank you for sharing a wonderful article which introduced me to yet another amazing place!

    Reply
    • November 7, 2018 at 6:12 pm
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      I just wanted to say the same!:) I really enjoyed your post!

      Reply
  • November 7, 2018 at 1:16 pm
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    Loved, loved, loved your post! Brought back wonderful memories of our trip to Kerala two years ago where we followed pretty much the same itinerary. Your pictures and descriptions are perfect and very helpful!

    Reply
  • October 22, 2018 at 6:44 am
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    Great advice, interesting and beautiful photos of the sunset!

    Reply
  • October 18, 2018 at 3:11 pm
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    This is such a well-written travel guide! Sounds like an amazing area of the world; so fascinating about the Jewish history in Mattancherry.

    Reply
  • October 18, 2018 at 12:46 pm
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    Beautiful pictures and a lot of great info! Thank you for sharing!!

    Reply

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