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Kerala Travel Guide

Author: David Pettitt

The state of Kerala is located at India’s southern extremity and forms a long sliver of land bordered by Tamil Nadu to the east and Karnataka in the north with Sri Lanka and the Maldives to the south. In many ways Kerala is distinct geographically, climatically and culturally to its near neighbours and, although best known for its coastline and palm-fringed beaches, has a hilly, lush and thickly forested interior framed by the high mountains of the Western Ghats. The climate is tropical and this, in turn, has contributed to the production of tea, coffee and key Indian spices which form an important part of the Keralan identity and also attracted the first western traders to the subcontinent, including Vasco da Gama in 1498. Our Kerala travel guide highlights the very best of the region, both for the first-time visitor or seasoned traveller.

Why Visit Kerala?

There are few places with the diversity of Kerala and the combination of beach, backwaters and mountain, history, wildlife and cuisine is unrivalled in southern Asia. Kerala is easy to reach, there are a number of international airports and an extensive domestic air network, roads are good and driving times tend to be shorter than many other regions in India so it is possible to see a real cross-section of the state in a relatively short time. There is an extensive range of accommodation from homestays and small hotels to heritage properties and luxury retreats and a good balance between culture and relaxation – although an emphasis can always be made on either!

Wooden boat on the palm-lined backwaters in Kerala, India
Keralan backwaters
Man climbing a palm to pick coconuts in Kerala, India
Keralan coconut picker

Things to see and do in Kerala

There is plenty to see and do in Kerala. Whether your interest lies in the state’s heritage, its scenery, exploring and understanding the region’s myriad of cultural traditions or simply relaxing on the beach, or even your own private houseboat, the options are almost endless. Here are a few of Kerala’s key travel highlights that you will not want to miss.

Explore historic Fort Kochi

Founded by the Portuguese, expanded by the Dutch and developed into a major spice trading centre by the British, historic Fort Kochi  is an atmospheric warren of cobbled lanes and pretty white-washed homes. Once one of India’s most important commercial cities there is history at every turn, from the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets beside the working harbour to St Francis Church, the oldest European church in India, and 450 year old Mattancherry Palace.

Cruise the Keralan Backwaters

Arguably the region’s best known natural feature, the Keralan Backwaters are a watery labyrinth of palm-lined canals, rice-paddies and small country towns that spread south from Kochi in a lowland riverine network. The backwaters is Kerala at its tranquil best; children play in the water, villagers work their fields and fishermen bring in their catch. The best way to experience the backwaters is by a private, authentic houseboat – a traditional mode of transport in use for centuries.

Historic white-fronted church surrounded by palm trees in Kochi, Kerala
St Francis Church, Fort Kochi
Small wooden houseboat sailing on a lake in Kerala
Houseboat on the Keralan Backwaters
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Relax beside the palm-fringed Malabar Coast

There are few better places to relax in India than beside Kerala’s idyllic coast. Running 600kms from northern Kerala to the southern city of Trivandrum, the beaches in Kerala are nearly always sandy, lined with coconut groves and have few cliffs. Harder to reach, the coastline of northern Kerala is quieter and hotels here, such as Neeleshwar Hermitage, have an emphasis on wellness and rejuvenation. Further south, the properties around Mararikulam provide easy access to Kochi and the backwaters and have a laidback atmosphere whilst larger resorts tend to be found closer to bustling Kovalam.

Experience the tea plantations of the Western Ghats

As you travel inland from the coast, the Western Ghats rise precipitously and form a ridge of mountains that separates Kerala from its neighbour Tamil Nadu. These hills are home to some of the finest scenery in India and shelter a number of quaint hill stations including Munnar, Sultan’s Battery and Madikeri, the main town of the Coorg region, and just across the border in Karnataka. Munnar is an excellent place to visit a tea plantation whilst Sultan’s Battery and Coorg are major coffee and spice centres.

White sand, palm trees and blue sea at a beach in Kerala, India
South Keralan beach
Forest, lake and tea plantations in the Western Ghats of Kerala

Classic Keralan itineraries

To experience the very best of Kerala we have devised a number of itineraries that follow popular routes, common themes and cover the key places to visit. As a specialist tour operator, all of these itineraries are suggestions and can be completely tailored to create a unique and individual itinerary. All journeys listed below are based on two people travelling on a completely private basis and you will have your own car and driver, local guides and include international flights.

For those wishing to experience traditional rural Keralan life

This itinerary focuses on coastal Kerala, the backwaters and surrounding small country towns and villages. There are stays in two charming homestays, including a century old Keralan mansion, a two night cruise on the backwaters and few days of relaxation beside the beach in peaceful Mararikulam.

See Rural Images of Kerala for more information

Culture and history from Kerala’s tea hills to the lanes of Kochi

For those interested in the history of the region this is the ultimate overland journey from Mysore in Karnataka to Kochi. Highlights include Mysore’s grand City Palace, the temple complex at Somnathpur and historic Fort Kochi. Learn about hill station life in Sultan’s Battery and Ooty and also take a memorable ride on the century-old Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

For a detailed itinerary see Spices and Sandalwood – A Journey from Mysore to Kochi

Kathakali performers in traditional costumes in Kerala, India
Kathakali performers
Tea pickers in colourful saris in Kerala, India
Keralan tea pickers
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Popular Kerala two-centre combinations

Due to its location and excellent links with both India and the rest of Asia, Kerala lends itself to a two-centre holiday. The options are almost endless but some of the most popular and straightforward combinations and included here in our Kerala travel guide.

Kerala and the Maldives

The fabulous island resorts of the Maldives are very close to Kerala making it easier than ever before to combine both destinations in one trip. Both IndiGo Airlines and Spice Jet fly between Kochi and Male whilst an Air India service links Trivandrum with the Maldivian capital.

Kerala and Rajasthan

To fully experience the diversity of India, the regal forts and palaces of Rajasthan could be combined with Kerala. There are regular daily flights between northern cities such as DelhiJaipur

and Mumbai and we will be happy to talk through the many different options available.

White sand and turquoise seas at a resort in the Maldives
Anantara Dhigu, the Maldives / Image credit: Richard Soberka
Tower stone edifice of Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan

Useful travel information for Kerala

Our comprehensive India travel advice contains lots of helpful information on the country, however, below are answers to common questions directly related to Kerala that we are frequently asked.

When is the best time to visit Kerala?

Kerala can be visited the year-round but the very best time to visit is from September to April. The monsoon is at its peak in June, July and August and there is a second, less heavy, monsoon between mid-October and the middle of November.

How do you reach Kerala?

There are no direct flights to Kerala but there are excellent connections via Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat to Kochi and Trivandrum. British Airways have daily direct services between London and Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

What are the most important Keralan festivals?

There are a number of key celebrations but the most important festival in Kerala is Onam which takes place in either August or September. Diwali and Dussehra, which are celebrated nationwide, are also observed throughout the state.

What types of accommodation are there in Kerala?

The range of accommodation in Kerala is incredibly varied from small heritage properties and charming homestays to exclusive coastal retreats. Kerala is also known for its excellent wellness hotels that specialise in yoga and Ayurveda.

What are the visa requirements for India?

British Citizens require a visa for India. This must be obtained prior to your arrival in the country and the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) must be applied for online.

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