Kerala – God’s own country as it is popularly known as, is probably the most popular travel destination in India. Hailing originally from Kerala, I might even add that it’s the most safest place to travel in India from people outside India. I’ve been born and brought up in India, so all of the information below is mostly first hand. Should you have any questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll try my best to help you.
Also read: Places to visit in Kerala during Summer.
So, why Kerala?
Kerala, is geographically placed at the southern tip (well, almost) of India and is pretty unique in many ways. One, it is geographically positioned in such a way that it gets a lot of rainfall compared to its neighboring states. I remember the days when I was living there, it used to rain cats and dogs during the Monsoon. While at the same time, if you travel couple of hours to the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, you will find hot like summer, state of life with no or very little rain. This is because of the Western Ghats (mountain range) separating Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Why Kerala is a great tourist destination
– Great climate, compared to rest of India.
– Lot of diversity in things to do and places to go.
– Rich tradition and cultural heritage.
– Lots of great food to taste and explore.
– Friendly people.
– Responsible Government who actively participate in promoting tourism.
– Easy to get around.
– Geographically unique to explore and find fun things to do.
What about the stuff I hear in the news?
Well, like any other popular travel destination, there are the goods and bads. But in my opinion, the bads are really really low when compared to other places, in Kerala. Random, one off incidents keep happening, but the Government and people are very responsive and very supportive. If there is one place that I can safely say is safe, fun and truly diverse in its flavor in India, it would be Kerala – No doubt!
Top tourist places in Kerala to visit
You might have heard and seen about lot of places in Kerala from “travel books” written by arm chair explorers. My experience is different and I want to share it with you. Kerala does not have a one size fit all, package. Well, it might have a few, but that isn’t the quintessential Kerala you should know. There is the “Touristy Kerala” and the real Kerala. Let me give you a taste of both, just to be fair.
Also read: Best budget hotels in Kochi.
So, here goes.
1. Backwaters of Alleppey
This is the place where backwaters and those funny looking “houseboats” can be seen. Often seen on travel brochures to Kerala, this is an over rated experience. It’s a fun place and there is a lot of boating and relaxing to do, but the travel brochures do an unfair job of depicting the place limiting it to just house boats and coconuts. Alleppey is almost half way/middle of the length of Kerala and is easy to reach. It is a coastal area and there is a lot of exploration to do with backwaters. This place has become the hot destination with tourists that the number of houseboats available today for hire has quadrupled over the last couple of years. As someone who has seen the growth, I don’t like the saturation happening, but with all the attention, I guess it is inevitable.
Things to do at Alleppey
– Ride a house boat (available on hire as you land.)
– Taste some local food. (Mainly fish variety with lot of spice.)
– Visit some local toddy shops. (Local bars.)
2. Temples of Malabar
Malabar is not a place, but a region in India. The north part of Kerala to be precise. It’s the first you come across as you arrive from the North through Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh. Consisting of places like Kannur, Kasargod, Malappuram, Kozhikode this place has a heavy influence of Middle Eastern/Arabic culture which has lingered on from the olden days of trade. This region has an amazing cultural background with a heavy balance between traditional Kerala culture and Middle Eastern influence. The famous “Theyyam” dance is from Kannur in Malabar.
Things to do in Malabar
– Visit some amazing beaches.
– Visit some very old traditional Hindu temples.
– Try some amazing Malabar food (Biriyani and the like..)
There’s a whole lot of things to do in Malabar, which requires another whole post.
3. Beaches of Kochi (Cochin)
Kochi, or Cochin as it was previously known as is easy to reach and in the middle of Kerala. The Cochin international airport flies many international flights and is easily accessible. 30 mins from Cochin airport, you’ll reach Fort Kochi in the heart of Cochin. Fort Kochi is a touristy place with lot of things to do and places to go. The culture is amazing here with influences from Iran. Britain, Portuguese, Persian and Arab. You will see architecture that is inspired by these cultures and even people living in their own systems and belief, sometimes even different from the typical Malayali (Keralite) culture. Few must visits are the Chinese fishing nets, the Synagogue, the Gujarati street and the beach. You’ll get amazing sea food here on the beaches with restaurants that serve food exclusive for tourists. Sometimes expensive, these restaurants are a must visit. (I hear they charge you more if they see that you’re a tourist.)
4. Munnar Tea Plantations
Kerala is very diverse in its topography that towards the east, you’ll see hill stations with sprawling acres of tea and coffee plantations. Less populated, these places are a scenic beauty to visit. When Kochi and Allepey are crowded cities, Munnar is a quick get away from the hustle and bustle. You’ll have to rent a car from Cochin and spent 4-5 hours to get there but that is worth the wait. The climate is cold with usual fogs and clouds touching down upon you. If you need some lone time relaxing, Munnar is the place to be.
You’ll find several hotels in the town, and some planned out estate ranches and cottages few miles within. Cottages and resorts within the plantations are more expensive for their views and “boxed out” nature, but if you need cheap stays, you’ll find hotels in the town. Get a local tourist guide and a jeep or a car and you’re all set.
Thekkady is closer to Munnar and is probably the best place in Kerala to observe wildlife. Famous for its wildlife spottings, Thekkady also have options for relaxing boat trips. From the mighty Indian elephant to the Great Indian tiger, this place has it all. Elephants, deers, boars, bisons and lion tailed macaques are a common sight in the reservoir area. Don’t get your hopes up though.
Tips for first time visitors to Kerala
- Always carry a local map with you. Online maps are fine, but Internet connectivity can be spotty.
- Get a local tourist guide authorized by Government to get around places.
- When using cabs/taxis, haggle for price. They normally quote higher for tourists. It is ok to haggle.
- Carry sun protection cream, mosquito repellents etc.
- Do not carry large amounts of money with you.
- Always keep a local police station number with you just in case you’re lost. (Usually 100)
- Try AirBnB for cheaper home stays.