How to Plan a Trip to Kerala

How to Plan a Trip to Kerala

By CarolUpdated May. 14, 2021

Kerala is often called God's Own Country because of its incredible natural beauty and charm. This South Indian state is a tropical paradise with beautiful waterfalls, bountiful wildlife, and a laid-back and peaceful vibe.

If you want to explore the main highlights of Kerala, your trip should be at least 4-5 days but a full 7-8 days is better. The top 3 places to visit in the state are Kochi with its great food and culture, Munnar with its expansive tea plantations, and Alleppey with its canal networks.

In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about planning your trip to Kerala including why you should visit, where you should go, what you should do, what to expect with food and accommodation, as well as a sample itinerary for your trip.

Woman drinking tea in Munnar tea plantations Kerala

Highlights

  • Kerala is the perfect place to visit for travelers who are looking for a relaxing and laid-back trip to India or those who have visited India once before.
  • In Kerala, visitors can explore tea and spice plantations, take a boat ride through rural backwater villages, try great food, and experience Ayurveda or yoga retreats.
  • The top places to go in Kerala include Cochin, Munnar, Periyar National Park, and Alleppey.
  • Kerala has excellent heritage hotels and gorgeous resort accommodation that offer spa services and Ayurvedic treatments.
  • The best time to visit Kerala is from December to February, but those who don't mind hot weather can also visit from March to May.

4 Reasons to Visit Kerala

Kerala is not usually the first place that travelers think of when they start planning a trip to India, but it is the perfect location to relax and is especially great for travelers who have already visited the Golden Triangle and have seen classic India.

While the rest of India tends to be chaotic, crowded, and dry, Kerala is tropical, laid-back, and peaceful. The culture here is unique and the scenery and wildlife are unbeatable.

1. Culture and cuisine that are refreshing and different from anything else in India

Kerala is a small piece of land that contains a large mixture of unique cultures. From the influence of the Portuguese, Arabs, and Chinese that you will find in Kochi to the rural villages of the backwaters, in Kerala travelers can experience parts of India that are often unseen.

The uniqueness and diversity of Keralan culture can also be seen in the local cuisine. Out of all the states in India, Keralan food is the most loved for its sweetness, fresh seafood, and mixture of aromatic spices that provide a depth of flavor without too much heat.

2. An abundance of opportunities to experience Ayurvedic treatments or do yoga

Kerala is the best place to go to experience Ayurveda which is one of the world's oldest and best-known forms of traditional medicine. This state is known for its Ayurvedic retreats that give clients unique treatment plans to cure their ailments naturally.

Kerala also offers yoga retreats and classes for people of all levels. Yoga enthusiasts can take a few classes or enroll in a longer and more intense program that involves meditation and spiritual awakening.

3. The state is absolutely full of unique wildlife and animals

Kerala has more than 25 wildlife reserves and its vast jungles are teeming with beautiful wild animals like elephants, Bengal tigers, and monkeys.

Periyar National Park is one of the state's biggest wildlife reserves covering almost 100 square kilometers of jungle. This is one of the best places to see Bengal tigers in their natural habitat. The park also includes lots of other critters like flying squirrels and macaques.

4. A tropical paradise with beaches, jungles, and forests

The state's absolutely beautiful scenery is one of the reasons that Kerala that draws so many visitors and continues to leave them awestruck. The coasts are lined with white-sand beaches that are bordered by the Arabian Sea on one side and tall palm trees on the other.

Once you leave the coast, you can head into the villages of the backwaters which are small patches of farmland separated by deep canals with blue waters full of lotus flowers.

In the hill stations near the Western Ghats, visitors can take in the lush green mountain forests and the local tea and spice plantations. In the national parks, you'll find the dense jungles, calm lagoons, and picturesque waterfalls.

Top 7 Places to Visit in Kerala

Although Kerala is a small state, it has a lot to offer and many incredible places that are worth visiting.

Travelers who have 4-5 days can spend time in Kochi, Munnar, and Alleppey.

Those who have 7-10 days can also add visits to some of the state's other beautiful destinations such as Periyar National Park or some top beaches.

1. Kochi

Kochi or Cochin is often called the 'Gateway to Kerala' and is the first place travelers will visit upon their arrival in the state. Kochi was originally an important port city during the spice trade and was once a Portuguese colony. The city has also been influenced by the Arabs, British, Dutch, and Chinese.

Walking through Fort Kochi, visitors can take in the charming colonial architecture, see the Chinese Fishing Nets at sunset, stop inside a spice shop to try the locally grown pepper or cardamon, and relax in boutique coffee shops near the Arabian Sea.

Chinese fishing nets Kochi Kerala The famous Chinese fishing nets in Kochi

2. Munnar

Munnar is Kerala's most famous hill station which was originally founded by the British as a place to grow tea. Today, Munnar is still famous for the variety and flavors of tea it produces. It also has coffee plantations and spice farms that grow everything from ginger and garlic to vanilla, cloves, and cardamom.

Munnar is located in the Western Ghats and because of its higher elevation is a great escape from the heat and humidity of the rest of the state. Here you can stay in a resort and spend your days taking in the rainforest scenery or touring aromatic plantations.

Picking Tea in Munnar Tea plantations Tea plantations in Munnar

3. Alleppey

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Alleppey is the name of a small island that is located in Kerala's famous backwaters. The backwaters are an area of Kerala with many small villages and farms that are separated by a complex system of canals. The people in these villages have their own unique culture and language.

The best way to explore this area is to rent a houseboat. Houseboats are comfortable and private boats that come with a captain and a chef and take travelers on excursions through the backwater canals.

Alleppey house in the backwater villages along the canal Backwater villages along the canals

4. Periyar National Park

Periyar National Park is located in Thekkady and is one of the most popular wildlife reserves in South India. This is a great eco-tourism destination where travelers can explore the jungles and see animals in their natural habitats instead of in captivity.

In Periyar, visitors can take a safari through the jungle or boat through the waterways in search of Bengal tigers, wild Asian elephants, and mischievous monkeys.

Monkey in Thekkady Periyar National Park Monkey in Periyar National Park

5. Varkala Beach

Varkala Beach is one of the best beaches in India due to its striking views and location. Varkala is a long stretch of land that is bordered by sheer cliffs on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other.

When visiting, travelers can stay in resorts and hotels on the cliff that overlook the beach and sea below. Varkala is becoming more and more popular these days but is still less developed than Kovalam while also offering plenty of beach shacks and shops for travelers.

Varkala Beach Cliff beach and water Varkala Beach

6. Kovalam Beach

Kovalam Beach is the most popular and most developed beach in Kerala. This is the perfect place to go if you are looking for plenty of things to do, great restaurants, and adventure sports.

Kovalam is a great place to get a traditional Ayurvedic massage which will helps your body achieve balance and calm. Kovalam is full of massage parlors and most hotels here offer Ayurvedic treatments too.

Kovalam Beach and lighthouse View of the lighthouse at Kovalam Beach

7. Marari Beach

Marari Beach is located about 30 minutes north of Alleppey and is a quieter and less developed beach that is off the normal tourist track.

Marari is the perfect place to go after taking a tour of the backwaters on a relaxing houseboat. Here you can continue your relaxation by spending some time on the sand near the coconut groves.

Marari beach Secluded Marari beach

Best 11 Things To Do in Kerala

A good way to figure out where you want to go in Kerala is to first decide which experiences you are most interested in.

Check out the top 11 things to do in Kerala below:

1. Cruise Through the Backwaters

One of the most popular things to do in Kerala is to explore the backwaters on a houseboat. Taking a houseboat through the canals of local villages is an incredibly relaxing experience. On the boat, you can sit on the upper deck and unwind while your personal chef and captain take care of the rest.

Taking a cruise through the backwaters gives travelers an opportunity to see culturally unique villages that would otherwise be difficult to reach. It is also a great way to take in the tropical scenery of the Keralan countryside.

Houseboat backwaters Alleppey Houseboat sailing through the backwaters

2. Get an Ayurvedic Treatment

Ayurveda is a traditional medicine practice that includes many different methods to bring the body back into balance through a variety of techniques that have been studied for 5000 years.

Those who are interested in learning more about Ayurveda can spend some time at an Ayurveda retreat where they will get a personal diagnosis and treatment plan. Most hotels and resorts in Kerala offer Ayurvedic massages for those who are curious but don't want to take the retreat route.

Ayurveda Kerala massage Ayurvedic massage

3. Relax with Yoga

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Kerala is a popular destination for travelers who want to learn more about yoga and meditation from the place they originated.

Yoga practitioners of all levels can spend time at an Ashram where they will learn about the principles of yoga and follow a strict schedule and regimen. There are also plenty of options for more laid back yoga retreats that include yoga on the beach and massage treatments.

Yoga at the tea plantations Yoga in Munnar

4. Take a Cooking Class

Keralan cuisine is famous for the way it achieves a perfect balance in the use of local spices and ingredients. Compared to North India, Keralan food is lighter and sweeter in flavor.

Taking a cooking class is a great way to get hands-on experience with this important part of Keralan culture. In your class, you can learn how to make the classic sambar (veggie curry), dosa (a flat rice batter crepe), fish masala, and more.

Kerala Fish masala Fish masala

5. Explore the Tropical Jungles and See Native Wildlife

Kerala has a large variety of national parks and wildlife reserves. The most famous is Periyar which is a great place to see wild tigers and elephants while on a jungle safari.

Eravikulam is a beautiful park that is located near Munnar and is full of great forest treks and famous waterfalls and Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most beautiful parks in the state with its expansive evergreen forests.

Endangered Nilgiri Tahr Eravikulam National Park Nilgiri Tahr at Eravikulam National Park

6. Visit a Tea Plantation

Kerala is one of the top tea producing states in India and has some of the best plantations that grow the most high-quality tea. The Munnar hill station is covered in tea fields and plantations that visitors can explore.

All the tea in Munnar is handpicked by field workers to ensure quality. After exploring the plantations, travelers can hike around the surrounding hills or check out the local Tea Museum.

Tea plantation in Munnar Plantation in Munnar

7. Explore the Spice Plantations

The high elevation hills of Munnar aren't just perfect for growing tea but are also great places to grow a variety of spices. The spices grown on plantations in Munnar have long been very lucrative for the state of Kerala and were once considered to be highly valuable by merchants from Europe, China, and the Ottoman Empire.

When exploring a spice plantation, you'll find a variety of spices including cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, mace, and ginger all growing in their separate sections of the field.

Keralan spices Ground spice in a local market

8. Take a Food Tour

When talking about Kerala, one thing that is always mentioned is its incredible food. While it might seem like we are over exaggerating when we say Keralan food is amazing, our proof is in the travelers who return from India with nothing but love for this fresh and balanced cuisine.

The best way to experience everything that Keralan cuisine has to offer is to take a food tour. These tours often include cooking classes, visits to plantations, and lots of sampling and tasting.

Keralan food cooking class Traditional Keralan dishes

9. Join in a Festival

Because the culture of Kerala is completely different from the rest of India, the state also celebrates unique and interesting festivals. Participating in a festival is one of the best ways to understand more about India's complex relationship with religion and local heritage.

Onam is Kerala's biggest festival of the year and is celebrated in late August or early September. This festival lasts for 10 days and includes large feasts, traditional Kathakali dance performances, music, intricate rangoli decorations, rituals, and boat races.

Elephants at temple festival Kerala Elephants at a Temple Festival

10. Hike Through the Lush Green Landscape

The Himalayan region of India is the most famous amongst trekkers who are interested in difficult climbs at high elevation. Kerala offers a different type of hiking that is more relaxed with the goal of taking in rural villages and tropical scenery.

The Western Ghats are the best area in Kerala for hiking or walking tours. Here you will find a large variety of landscapes including shrub forests, tropical jungles, evergreen forests, and rolling grasslands. On your walks, you will also see plenty of local wildlife including birds and small animals.

Munnar Munnar

11. Unwind at the Beach

Kerala has a long coastline filled with beautiful tropical beaches that are surrounding by tall palm trees and the Arabian Sea.

Besides relaxing in the sun, Kerala's beaches offer plenty of things to do. In recent years, many beaches have become popular places for Ayurveda or yoga retreats where clients can learn about these traditional practices while also catching some rays.

yoga on the beach in Kerala Yoga at sunset

The Keralan coast is also the best place to try local seafood dishes. Here, fish is caught and then immediately brought into restaurants where it is freshly cooked. Nowhere else does fish masala taste better than on the beaches of Kerala.

Festivals and Events in Kerala

While the most important festival for most Indians is Diwali, the most important holiday of the year in Kerala is Onam. Onam is a 10-day celebration that occurs in early September and is celebrated through many rituals and events.

During Onam, travelers can watch as people perform pujas or rituals at temples and celebrate in the streets of Kochi with dance performances and music. Onam is also famous for the beautiful rangoli which are designs that are made from colored rice and flowers.

Onam traditional feast on a banana leaf Traditional Onam meal

Kerala also holds many temple festivals that celebrate one specific temple with rituals and parades of painted elephants. Our favorite temple festival is Thrissur Pooram which is celebrated at Vadakkunnathan Temple.

Other great festivals to experience in Kerala include Theyyam, the 800-year-old celebration of deities, and the boat races including Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Alleppey.

Keralan Food

If there is one thing that travelers can't stop talking about in Kerala, its the food. While food all over India is incredible, Keralan food is beloved by so many for its fresh ingredients, sweetness, and flavor that includes many spices but is not too hot.

One of the most famous and commonly eaten dishes in Kerala is fresh fish masala. This dish includes the catch of the day cooked in a spice-filled coconut sauce. 

Vegan keralan dishes An assortment of fresh Keralan food

Another great thing to try in Kerala is the South Indian dosaDosas are a typical South Indian breakfast food that are made from rice batter and are fluffy and light pieces of flatbread. Dosas are often dipped in sauces or gravies like sambar.

Hotels and resorts in Kerala often have great chefs that serve some of the best authentic local food along with some western options. Eating in your hotel for lunch is a great way to get an introduction to Indian food. We also recommend eating in specialty restaurants or cafes to try out some local specialties.

If you want to learn more about Keralan food and spices, then make sure to take a cooking class to get first-hand experience with how authentic local food is made.

Best Time to Visit Kerala

Kerala has a tropical and humid climate.

The best time to visit is typically from December to February when the state experiences dry and slightly cooler weather. This is the high season for tourism in Kerala which means higher prices on accommodation and travel.

It is possible to visit Kerala during the hot season from March to May. During this time you can expect hot and humid days with temperatures typically 28 and 32°C (82 and 90°F). The hot season is the best time to visit Kerala's wildlife reserves because the animals are more active in hot weather.

Kerala experiences a long monsoon season that typically lasts from June to November. The state actually gets hit with two monsoons. The first brings the most rain and lasts from June to September. Kerala sometimes experiences flooding at this time.

The second monsoon hits in November and December, but brings much less rain and can be a great time to visit for those looking for more affordable prices on yoga retreats or Ayurveda resorts.

Best Accommodation in Kerala

Kerala is the perfect place to spend your holiday if you are interested in staying in beautiful colonial heritage hotels or resorts with pools, spas, and massage treatments. No matter where you go in Kerala, you'll be able to find great options for accommodation.

Check out some of our recommendations below:

Cochin

Cochin is the largest city in Kerala and was once colonized by the Portuguese. This area's unique history makes it the perfect place to stay in a beautiful heritage hotel. We love the Taj Malabar Resort & Spa for its old-world charm, first-rate spa, and views of the harbor.

We also love the Trident Cochin for its 5-star facilities, beautiful gardens, and Ayurvedic center. If you would like to stay in a beautiful location that's farther away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, you can check out Le Meridien Kochi which overlooks the Cochin backwaters and has two beautiful restaurants that serve great western and Indian dishes.

Munnar

Munnar is Kerala's best hill station and is famous for its cool and comfortable weather. This is a great place to stay in a luxurious hotel with views of the surrounding tea plantations.

One of our favorite hotels in Munnar is Fragrant Nature Munnar which is located in the mountain forest surrounded by wildlife. This hotel offers comfortable bungalows with mountain views and cozy fireplaces. Fragrant Nature also has a restaurant with all-day dining that serves North and South Indian cuisine.

We also love the Windmere Estate for its great views and location near the aromatic coffee and spice plantations and Ragamaya Resort & Spa for its luxurious rooms and on-site authentic Ayurvedic treatments.

Alleppey

When traveling to the backwaters of Alleppey, you will spend at least one night on a houseboat. If you would like to stay in the area for a longer period, then there is nowhere better than at a homestay. Homestays are a great way to get to know the local people. Most homestays in Alleppey offer simple but comfortable accommodation.

Our favorite homestays include Venice Castle and the Bella Art and Meditation House.

How to Travel in Kerala

In order to get to Kerala, most people will fly into the Cochin International Airport. This airport receives flights from many domestic cities including Delhi and Mumbai and a few international flights as well. 

Once you have arrived in Kerala by plane, the best way to travel throughout the state is with a private chauffeured car. Hiring a chauffeured car is quite affordable in India and is the most convenient and comfortable way to travel in Kerala.

Take a private chauffeured car in India

Here are the normal travel times by private car:

  • Cochin to Munnar: 4 hours
  • Munnar to Periyar: 4 hours
  • Periyar to Alleppey: 3.5 hours
  • Alleppey to Cochin: 2 hours

It is also possible to travel between these cities by bus. Local buses normally take longer than traveling by a private car and are often uncomfortable and crowded.

While there are some trains in Kerala, train travel is not as convenient as other methods of transportation. Kerala is a very hilly state that is full of dense jungles and wet lowlands making building large highways and train routes difficult.

Tailor-Make Your Kerala Itinerary

At Asia Highlights, we tailor-make the itinerary of every guest to suit each traveler's specific interests and travel goals.

Our basic Kerala itinerary consists of visiting Cochin, Munnar, Periyar, and Alleppey. Go ahead and take a look to get some inspiration and then contact us if you would like to make changes or add on different destinations.

There are many benefits of taking a private tour of Kerala. Through a private tour, you will be able to see the best parts of this beautiful state conveniently and comfortably. The cost of a private tour includes a chauffeured car, private English-speaking guide, breakfast and lunch, and your gorgeous hotel.

Day 1: Arrive in Cochin

On the first day of your Kerala journey, you will arrive at the Cochin International Airport and then will be met by one of our representatives at the arrivals gate. Afterward, you will be introduced to your private chauffeur who will take you to your hotel.

Feel free to spend the rest of the day relaxing at the hotel spa or exploring nearby neighborhoods.

Day 2: Cochin

On your second day, your private guide will take you around this ancient port city to explore the streets of Fort Kochi and other areas. Here you can learn about Cochin's diverse heritage by visiting the Dutch Mattancherry Palace, Portuguese Santa Cruz Basilica, and the St Francis Church which is believed to be one of the oldest churches in India.

In Cochin, you can also take a cooking class, visit spice shops, relax in high-end restaurants, and explore local art galleries.

In the evening, head to the waterfront to see the fisherman using the famous Chinese fishing nets and get great photos of the sunset over the Arabian Sea.

Day 3: Munnar

After Cochin, you will take a private transfer to Munnar where the weather is cooler and the vast tea plantations are surrounded by misty jungles. Here, you can spend your first day touring a tea plantation, visiting the tea museum, or simply taking in the views of the surrounding forests from your hotel. 

Day 4: Munnar

Wake up in the early morning to take a trek through the gorgeous forests and surrounding hills. On your trek, you will see various animals and plants and take in the beautiful views.

After your hike, you can check out some of the local coffee and spice plantations to learn more about Kerala's flavors. You can also take an excursion to the nearby Eravikulam National Park.

Day 5: Periyar

Spend the next morning in Munnar at your hotel spa or sipping a cup of tea while taking in the surrounding scenery. In the afternoon, you transfer to Periyar National Park via private car. 

Day 6: Periyar to Alleppey

Wake up in the early morning to take a jungle walk with a park ranger to see monkeys, deer, giant squirrels, and some beautiful birds. Jungle walks typically last for around 3 hours and it's important to wear good shoes and comfortable clothes.

For those who don't want to walk, it is possible to take a boat safari through the jungles. Periyar National Park has wild Bengal tigers but spotting them often takes multiple days spent inside the park.

Day 7: Alleppey and the Backwaters

In the afternoon, head to Alleppey where you will meet the captain of your gorgeous houseboat. Spend the afternoon cruising through the canals and trying authentic local cuisine.

You can sit on the boat's upper deck to catch some sun with views of the surrounding villages.

Spend the night on the boat in your own private room.

Day 8: Return to Cochin Airport

The next morning, your driver will meet you at the docks and take you back to Cochin where you can catch your flight to your next destination.

Explore Kerala with Asia Highlights

If you want to see the best destinations in Kerala and have meaningful cultural experiences along the way, then look no further than Asia Highlights. At Asia Highlights, we make tours that are specifically created to fit the needs of each individual customer. Let us plan your trip for you so that you can just relax and prepare for your dream vacation.

Why Travel with Asia Highlights

  • Tailor-made experience: All of your ideas/needs will be carefully considered to create your ideal trip.
  • Worry-free planning: Every step of your trip, you will be looked after by your 1:1 travel consultant based in Asia.
  • No-risk booking: We refund as much as we can and adapt flexibly to unexpected changes.

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