My visit to Kerala allowed me to understand how the state fit the title God’s Own Country. This state located in the southwestern coast of India is teeming not only with herbs and spice plantations but also with sweet delights, diverse culture, historical sites, golden sand beaches, water adventure, uphill adventure, wildlife sanctuaries and many more.
Kerala first came up as a top travel destination in India just this 21st Century. In 2009, Kerala was included in the list of 50 places to visit which appeared in the special edition of the National Geographic Traveler Magazine. Then, in 2012, it ranked the top travel destination in India for Google’s search trend.
At this time now, Kerala should be on your travel bucket list too. So, in this article, I’ve come up with a list of must visit cities and must try activities when in Kerala. Let’s dive in.
Must Visit Cities in Kerala
Our first stop is in the capital city of Kerala, India. Trivandrum, or Thiruvananthapuram, is one of the main tourism hubs in the state. So, here, you can find the best beaches.
Also, you can find trekking sites that offer easy trek to the hills station of Ponmudi to difficult trek to the highest peak of Agasthyarkoodam. Then, you can find museums which showcase the natural resources of the state and rich history.
Visit the Kuthira Malika (Puthenmalika) Palace Museum
You are not allowed to take photographs inside.
Aside from the wealth of collections of the Travancore Royal family exhibited in the Palace Museum, it exudes the traditional Kerala architecture through its sloping ropes, eaves, pillars on verandahs, and enclosed courtyards.
The main highlights though are the detailed carvings, particularly on the ceiling of each room and on the wall brackets of the southern roof. The wall brackets are designed with 122 smiling horses. Thus, the Palace got the name Kuthira Malika which means Horse Mansion.
Visit Kovalam Beach
Kovalam Beach is a long crescent beach which has three coves separated by outcroppings. Out of the three, the Lighthouse beach is the busiest cove. This is the best place to go for a swim or to go for water sports like surfing, paragliding, and parasailing.
The second busiest cove among the three is the Hawa beach. This is busiest every morning when the fishermen setting their nets in the sea and pulling the nets back to the shore.
Last but not the least is the Samudra beach. Its shore is a bit rocky and waves are too strong. But, it is more secluded compared to the two other beaches in Kovalam.
Read : Tourist Places in Trivandrum
Where to stay:
If you want a base in Trivandrum near the beach but want a bit less crowded place, then I’d say choose the Hotel Samudra KTDC. This is managed by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC).
The Hotel Samudra KTDC offers premium and deluxe suites with the view of the Samudra Beach, Kovalam.
Book Now with Agoda.com
The Mascot Hotel is one of the three heritage hotels run by the KTDC. The Mascot Hotel used to be a lodging for Royal British Army during the World War I. It is only twenty minutes away from the Trivandrum International Airport and is within the city proper.
While retaining the British colonial vibe, the Mascot Hotel offers its guests six different room types and access to the following onsite facilities: a restaurant, coffee shop, bar, Ayurveda treatment center, and swimming pool.
Alleypey, locally referred to as Alapuzha, is the most popular jump off point of the backwater cruise in Kerala. The backwater cruise in Kerala allows you to see large beds of rice fields lying on the soils below sea level, floating market where the freshest catch of the day are sold, and the typical scenes in the villages along the backwaters.
On my backwater cruise adventure, the Rainbow Cruises was my host. Their houseboats has own bedroom (at least one up to four bedrooms), bathroom, kitchen and lounging area. The houseboats are also equipped with aircon, electric fan, lights, TV and electrical outlet (In case anyone will need to charge their gadgets).
At the Rainbow Cruise, they, through in-house chef on board, serve Kerala cuisines and snacks with huge servings and variety.
The tour packages by the Rainbow Cruise may include kayaking and walk tour around the villages and at some of the important and nearby tourist attractions.
Read : Houseboat in Allepey
Kumarakom is also located along the backwaters of Kerala. The place can be a starting point or drop off point of a Kerala backwater cruise. But, Kumarakom is best known for its responsible tourism program.
Learn about Responsible Tourism
Kerala implements an ideal responsible tourism system through Kumarakom. Here, they allow visitors to get a walkthrough of some of the most important industries and source of income in Kerala.
In the responsible tourism program in Kumarakom, the local villagers participate and benefit. They demonstrate handicraft making, natural shampoo making and other fun facts in their village.
Where to stay:
As your base in Kumarakom, you can stay in the eco-friendly hotel, the CGH Coconut Lagoon. Here, it has standard suite with second floor, bungalow type suites, and villa type suite with private pool. And, its main hotel facilities include outdoor pool, three in-house restaurants, and Ayurvedic treatment center.
The CGH Coconut Lagoon is near the Kumarakom bird sanctuary. The hotel can assist guests to go out for a day tour which includes bird watching, sunset cruise and watch traditional Kathakali performances.
You can drop by the Lulu Mall. It is the biggest mall in Asia with an over 215 outlets of stores, restaurants, and entertainment space.
Try the Thai Food in Grand Hyatt
For food trip, you can try the Thai street food serve in Thai Soul. It is located on Ground floor of Grand Hyatt Kochi.
Shopping on the Broadway
If you’re looking for affordable or cheap products, you can stroll along the Broadway Street in the city proper of Kochi where stores of any kind are lined up.
Shopping here though is like shopping like the locals.
The trip to Fort Kochi, a humble region in Cochin along the west coast of Kerala, is a trip back to pre-colonial, colonial and new era of Kerala. Through the architectural designs of different establishments, landmarks, food, and atmosphere, you may trace the cultures of Indian, British, Dutch, Portuguese and Jewish.
List to visit in Fort Kochi include the Paradesi Synagogue and the Jew Town, the beach and Chinese Fishing Nets, the Dutch Cemetery, St. Francis Church, Vasco Mansion, Bastion Bungalow, and Cochin Club.
Read :What to do in Kochi
Where to stay:
Kochi Marriott Hotel
The Marriot Hotel carries their ever reliable brand in Kochi while adapting to the Kerala culture through food. They serve traditional Kerala dishes on buffet table. For dinner, food are served on banana leaf.
Ramada Resort Kochi
The Ramada Resort Kochi is a waterfront hotel with the longest pool in the region. It’s Instagrammable too because of its river like shape.
The Ramada Resort Kochi is a bit away from the city proper. But, I guess, a secluded and quiet area is what they want to provide their guests. Aside from the backwater view and river-like pool, their facilities include Ayurvedic Treatment center, a separate western Spa facility, fitness gym, some indoor activity facilities, and four in-house restaurants.
Nearby, you can visit Temples and Mosques. Or, you can go out for a few water adventures like scuba diving, kayaking, stand up paddling or speedboat tour.
Located in Fort Kochi facing the Arabian Sea, Eight Bastion is a three-story white mansion with colonial architectural design. It carries the CGH Earth Hotel brand which is, among others, sustainably focused. One of the practices they implement is by using small glass bottles instead of plastic bottles for the toiletries.
The CGH Eight Bastion has only 19 suites which can be a standard room, a suite with balcony, or a suite with verandah by the garden.
The CGH Eight Bastion makes the Dutch influences as the theme of their hotel. Apart from the architectural design, the hotel showcases the Dutch influence through food.
In their kitchen, they cook up a collection of cuisines taken from “Dutch Route in South Asia”. Basically, they are local cuisines of some of the South Asian countries with the touch of Dutch influence.
Also in Fort Kochi but facing the Vembanad Lake, the Brunton Boatyard is a boat manufacturing facility turned sustainable hotel. It also carries with it the CGH Earth Hotel brand.
So, the Brunton Boatyard has an on-site drinking facility that uses rainwater. They also use glass bottles for drinking water instead of plastic bottles. And, they have solar panels installed on their roof for their water heater.
Fragrant Nature – Fort Kochi
A Fragrant Nature Hotel branch is located in Fort Kochi, facing Vembanad Lake. This one is a five star hotel and boasts the biggest Ayurvedic treatment center. Plus, it also has the largest swimming pool which is on its rooftop.
Munnar is about three to four hours away going east of Cochi. Unlike the first four cities, this one’s a bit drier and on a higher terrain. Lying in the terrain of Munnar are spice and tea plantations.
So, being here in Munnar can mean going for a jeep tour ride around the plantations and going for trek up to some sanctuaries and national parks.
Read :3 days in Munnar
Where to stay
Fog Resorts & Spa in Munnar
The Fog Resorts & Spa in Munnar offers independent villa type suites. This is near the Munnar Tea Museum.
KTDC Tea County
Also near the Munnar Tea Museum is the KTDC Tea County. It offers premium hotel suite.
Blanket Hotel & Spa
The Blanket Hotel & Spa is located just beside the Attukad falls. It features infinity pool, spa facility and mountain garden fronting the Attukad waterfalls.
Windermere Estate – Plantation & Retreat (Munnar)
The Windermere Estate – Plantation & Retreat in Munnar offers cabin-like suites. They also have the Boulder area where the bonfire is lit up for gathering of guests.
Must Experience in Kerala
Live aboard on a Houseboat
The ticket to backwater cruise in Kerala means a ride to the traditional rice boat (locally, Kettuvallam). Basically, these boats were first used to transport rice and spices to different ports through the backwater.
Today, these rice boats have modifications to provide the facilities that the guests will need for at least a day or overnight. This is definitely one of the top must experience adventure in Kerala.
- South Backwaters with Rainbow Cruises-The backwater in the South is the most visited by the tourists.
The Rainbow Cruises offers Luxury, Premium and Deluxe houseboat accommodations. The route of the Rainbow cruises includes Vembanad Lake and connecting narrow canals.
- North Backwaters with Bekal Ripples houseboats
Valiyaparamba (Valiaparamba) backwater is located in the Kasaragod district, Northern part of Kerala. You can expect a lighter traffic around this backwater wherein only 12 houseboats are sailing compared to the backwaters in the south where there are a hundred houseboats.
Bekal Ripples offers premium houseboat accommodation. Their houseboats feature the basic facilities like one bedroom, aircon, kitchen, and lounging area. They also have a chef and waiter on board.
Bekal Ripples route will start at the jetty along the Thejaswini River and will head to the backwaters of Valiyaparamba. This day cruise will take at least four hours.
Bekal Ripples also offers an overnight cruise, day and night cruise, lunch cruise, dinner cruise, and day cruise for large groups.
- with Lotus houseboats
The Lotus Houseboats offers an overnight cruise. Its route starts at Tejaswini River and stops at some of the important tourist attractions like Snake Temple and Monkey Forest.
The Lotus Houseboats are spacious. Aside from the bedroom, kitchen, lounging area and dining area, the Lotus Houseboats have sun deck where you can lounge and dine.
Homestays in Munnar
Homestays in Munnar allow guests to get a more personal experience of the Indian culture, particularly those in their households. Here, you can learn how to cook their local cuisines and delicacy. Of course, you’ll get to eat them with the family too.
The family can also teach you what they do to earn a living like weaving, fishing and farming.
Live in Luxurious Homes
Aside from homestays and houseboats, guests can also have different options of hotel accommodations in Kerala. There are budget hotels, premium hotels and luxury hotels.
Many luxury hotels have strategic location. They are often near important landmarks and within the city proper like the Marriot Hotel in Kochi.
Some luxury hotels are hiding in the banks of backwaters like the Coconut Lagoon in Kumarakom and Ramada Kochi in Kochi.
Live in tree houses
Tree house accommodation is a trend in Kerala. It is definitely one of the must-experience in Kerala. Traditional tree houses in Kerala are made of bamboo and coir rope with huge tree as its foundation. Their heights are at least 20 feet to 80 feet high.
The best tree house accommodations in Kerala can be found in Wayanad and Munnar, among others, because of their green and high terrain.
Tourist Attractions in Kerala
See the Chinese Fish Nets and Architectural Designs in Fort Kochi
Fort Kochi is a humble region which can be explore by taking an auto rickshaw ride or walk.
Walk around Fort Kochi is a walk back in time. Many residences and establishments retains their traditional and colonial architectural designs.
Along the coast of the Fort Kochi, you’ll easily find the Chinese Fishnets. These are traditional devices which were believed to be received from early Chinese traders. And, it beautifully adds drama on the picturesque beach of Fort Kochi.
Be amazed by various pretty beaches
Kerala is located in Malabar Coast. It has Instagrammable beaches which boast different features.
On the coast of Kerala, Kovalam Beach is the venue for the water adventure like parasailing and surfing. Compared to most of the beach in Kerala, Kovalam Beach has more shallow water and manageable waves.
The beach with fewer crowds in Kerala is the Marari Beach. It is located in Alleppey district.
There isn’t much to do on its water because of its strong waves. But, on its beachside, it is nice to take a long walk, a sunbath, an Ayurvedic treatment or a yoga class.
Kannur is a coastal city where Theyyam, a ritualistic performances are held every October until May. Kannur is made up of five main beaches.
Payambalam Beach form part of the Kannur beach. This is popular as a picnic site.
Verkala Beach is one of the most visited beaches in Kerala. It is also the most photographed because of its picturesque coast with rock cliff.
Adventure Tourism in Kerala
Go kayaking in Alleppey
Kayaking allows guests to go through narrow canals that houseboats cannot get through.
Go kayaking in Dharmadam, Kannur
Kayaking in Kannur can start at the Dharmadam Beach Park. Kayaking can take 2 hours through islands and mangrove forest.
Quad Biking in Muzhappilangad Drive-in Beach, Kannur
Muzhappilangad Beach, Kannur is probably the longest drive in beach in Asia. Its firm sand invites drivers to do stunts here. Quad bike rentals are available in the area. Definitely worth a try.
Go Canoeing in Neriamangalam
The Neriamangalam is located along the Periyar River. Kayaking and other water sports are the activities here.
Rapelling in Wayanad
After a few hours of trek through the hills of Wayanad, you can rappel down a rock cliff. This is okay for beginners.
Bamboo Rafting in Wayanad
In the Wayanad, you can relax and enjoy the bamboo. You’ll be accompanied by a paddler. And, you’ll be traversing the Vythiri river for at least one hour.
Go Camping in Munnar
I’ve already mentioned that the green terrain of Munnar has several trekking sites. It must be really nice to try camping in Munnar.
Popular camping tours are organized at the Pambadum Shola National Park (Sometimes spelled as Pampadumchola).
See Camels by the beach
Camel ride by the beach were previously a popular activity on the beach of Alleppey. Today, camel ride is now prohibited. But, you may watch them take a walk in the beach.
See the Forts on the coast of Kerala
The first line of defense in India is the fort in Kerala. Many colonists such as the Portuguese, Dutch and British put up the forts in some areas in the coast of Kerala in order to maintain rule over the India.
Many of the forts can still be seen on the coast of Kerala. One of these is the St. Angelo Fort in Kannur. St. Angelo Fort or Kannur Fort is one of the most popular. Visitors can still walk around to see lighthouse, canons, bastions, barracks and tombstones.
Another popular fort is the Bekal Fort. It was first built in 1650 AD and is believed to be the largest Fort.
See the Murals in Kozhikode
Compassionate Kozhikode is a non-profit organization composed of local and foreign volunteers, headed by their district administration. One of their projects is to clean and beautify the city, including its beach.
They do this through the volunteers. They first clean up the most visited and popular places in Kozhikode like the beach and bus stands.
Instead of the commercial signboards and advertisements, you’ll notice the beautifully done and maintained murals on the walls.
See the Jacaranda trees
The Jacaranda trees are not native flora in India. They are imported by the British during their colonial era.
But, the Jacaranda trees appear to be perfectly fit in the green valley of Munnar. And, they add color blue/violet as they fully bloom every March to May.
There are tons of designated bird sanctuaries in Kerala. But, the most popular is the bird sanctuary in Kumarakom, along the banks of Vembanad Lake. Not only indigenous birds settle here but also migratory birds.
Dolphin Watching – Fort Kochi
During lunch at the Terrace Grill of Brunton Boatyard, we saw dolphins which seemingly want to play with us.
You may also watch dolphins in the waters near the Cherai Beach, Vypin Island.
We saw a religious festival celebrated with bejeweled elephants in Thrissur. The festival is called Thrissur Pooram which is the most popular Pooram in Kerala. It is often held every late April or in May.
Our tour guide talked about how elephants are important for Indian culture and traditions so he asked each of us to give respect to that.
You have to have your shoulders covered.
We even met a local anika who wanted a selfie with me. They even invited me and my friend Teresa into their home. They shared that in a few days there will be an elephant race but too bad we weren’t able to see them.
Go on sunset cruises – Fort Kochi
Sunset cruise in Fort Kochi is a great opportunity to get that picture perfect of an unobstructed view of the sunset over the sea. Some hotel in the Fort Kochi like Brunton Boatyard offers a free sunset cruise.
Learning Experiences in Kerala
Learn about Local Living (Kumarakom and Responsible Tourism)
The responsible tourism program in Kumarakom includes screwpine leaves weaving, coconut leaves weaving, and coir rope making. The activities will also include coconut tree climbing, tapping toddy (local palm wine or Tuba) and visit to a farm, livestock farm and fishing grounds of the villagers.
Learn about Ayurveda
Ayurveda Treatment is believed to have originated in Kerala. Here, they have the abundant supply of the natural ingredients that may be need for the treatment. The place also has the right climate for the ingredients to grow.
Most of the accommodations have their own Ayurvedic treatment facility. Even along the banks of the backwater, we found some.
Through exhibits, the Vaidyaratnam Ayurveda Museum in Thrissur retells the history of the Ayurveda. It also tells important facts about the Ayurveda like what it covers and its different forms.
Learn about or witness the martial arts (Kalari)
In Kozhikode, we were able to watch a training session of their traditional martial arts, called Kalaripayattu. Kalari uses a combination of body movements, postures, and weapon.
Learn about the Dances (Kathakali)
Kathakali is a traditional musical play in Kerala which speaks of Indian folklores. Aside from the story, the performances include dance and vocal performances. Performers are dress with colorful costumes and makeup.
There’s a Kathakali Center in Fort Kochi, near the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica.
Learn about rubber tree tapping – Kothamangalam
Kerala cultivates the majority of rubber tree plantations in India. In Kothamangalam, we’ve seen a demonstration on how they do rubber tapping.
Basically, they’ll just make a long cut on the outer layer of the bark but without totally peeling it off. Through this curving cut, the latex or white sticky fluid extracted from the tree will flow.
The coconut shell or a cup will then catch the latex which will then be collected and processed into the rubber.
Explore Tea and Spice Plantations in Munnar
Lockhart Tea Factory and Tea Plantation Tours in Munnar give visitors the idea of how the export quality tea products are process and what benefits that an individual can get. There are also tea tasting section and factory outlets in the area.
Explore all the food including learning to eat with your bare hands
As their tradition, Kerala serve their food on banana leaf and eat with bare hands. This is one of the traditions that Filipinos are also familiar with. If not, you may ask for a fork and a spoon.
As for the food, Kerala often use coconuts in the form of grated or oil in their dishes. That is aside from their herbs and spices.
The dishes can be teeming with spices. You may ask them how spicy the dishes are.
Then, Kerala also has abundant seafood. And, dishes are often served with rice.
Try the Indian sweets and candies
Kerala use their local spices and herbs in their sweet delights and candies. They call these as Mithai. Among others, they have Jalebi which is a sweetened batter cooked with saffron. Then, another delight spiced with cardamom and appears like a granola bars molded into rounds is called Laddu.
In Jew town of Kochi, you can buy them at any bakeries.
Ride a Jeep Safari to spice and tea plantations
Jeep Safari ride going to uphill terrain of Munnar is a ride through dirt tracks, winding roads, breathtaking views and, sometimes, lucky encounter with indigenous animals.
Ride the tuktuk (Autorickshaw)
Tuktuk or Auto rickshaw is just like the Philippines tricycle. The difference is that the passenger seat goes on the back.
Auto rickshaw can help you get around in most of the city of Kerala. I’m not sure if it’s the cheapest mode of transportation. But, maybe, yes, when you ask policemen or helpdesk or any local how much the local fare is when riding an auto rickshaw. Or you may ask the driver nicely if they can lower the fare rate.
Ride an Overnight Train
Overnight Train ride is available when you’re heading to another state or you’re coming from another state going to Kerala.
Taking an overnight train ride is a must experience since you’ll experience how the locals travel, see good view from the window, and try the tea and food on train which can be surprisingly delicious.
For a quick sum up, we can say that Trivandrum has the best beaches and has best water adventure options; Alleppey is where more houseboat cruise options are offered; Kasaragod is where a less popular but still decent backwater cruises are offered; Kannur has kayaking and quad biking facilities; Kottayam is where the Responsible Tourism Program is implemented.
The list of must visit places and must do when in Kerala goes on. What’s your favorite place in Kerala? You may write your answers in the comment section below.