Top 15 Things to Do in Kerala

Located on the coast of southwestern India, Kerala is one of the most popular travel destinations in the country. The state is home to beautiful backwater canals, long coastlines, and sprawling tea gardens earning it the nickname ‘God’s Own Country’.

Not only does Kerala have beautiful scenery but also a rich culture that can be experienced through its unique dance styles, festivals and celebrations, delicious food, and traditional Ayurvedic medicine.

If you are looking for a relaxing vacation in a tropical destination with a rich cultural heritage, then Kerala is the place to go.

Highlights

  • Kerala’s backwaters are a palm-lined network of lakes, rivers, and canals that run from the coast to Alleppey and Kollam.
  • Having a relaxing Ayurvedic treatment in Kerala can help rejuvenate your body and relax your mind.
  • Keralan food is famous for its aromatic spices, sweet flavors, and fresh seafood.
  • Kerala contains fourteen wildlife sanctuaries and two tiger reserves where you can take a safari to see endangered species like the Indian Sloth-Bear and Bengal Tiger.
  • Visiting a tea plantation allows you to try the various types and flavors of Indian tea while taking in the surrounding scenery.
  • The most celebrated festival in Kerala is Onam, a ten-day harvest festival that occurs in August or September.
  • Varkala is one of Kerala’s best beaches and is lined by spectacular cliffs on one side and the blue Arabian Sea on the other.

1. Walk Through Beautiful Forests and Scenery

Recommended visiting time: half-day

Kerala is often called ‘God’s Own Country’ because of its beautiful tropical landscape. Kerala is also blessed with hot summers, dense tropical forests, long beaches, and 44 rivers and an expansive canal system.

To experience Kerala’s lush green landscape, you can head to Eravikulam National Park where you can take in rain forest views and rushing waterfalls. Eravikulam is particularly famous for containing Neelakurinji, a plant that blooms once every 12 years.

Here, travelers also have a chance to see the Nigiri Thar, an endangered mountain goat.

Perfect for: Nature-lovers and hikers

Insider tip: The best time to go hiking in Kerala is in September, just after the monsoon season when the forests are bright green and beautiful.

2. Cruise the Backwaters

Recommended visiting time: 3 hours

The Kerala backwaters are a palm-lined network of lakes, rivers, and canals that run from the coast to Alleppey and Kollam. In the backwater villages, the main method of transportation is by boat and the canals are traditionally used by locals for fishing and agriculture.

The backwaters are the most popular travel destination in Kerala. The best way to explore this area is by renting a traditional houseboat. Spending the day on a houseboat allows you to relax and eat good food with a view of the beautiful sunset, abundant green paddy fields, and the locals as they go about their day-to-day activities.

The most popular places to visit to rent a houseboat and explore the backwaters are Alleppey and Kollam.

Perfect for: Couples looking for a peaceful vacation

Insider tip: You can book a hotel or homestay along the backwaters to further immerse yourself in the local culture and village life.

3. Enjoy an Ayurvedic Treatment

Recommended visiting time: 2 hours

Any vacation to Kerala is incomplete without indulging in a rejuvenating Ayurveda session. Indian Ayurveda is one of the oldest systems of traditional medicine in the world and focuses on a balance of therapies that heal the mind, body, and spirit.

Kerala is the place to go if you are interested in natural healing or Ayurveda resorts. During an Ayurvedic treatment, herbs and oils are used to make a concoction that has the power to ease the tension in the body as well as relax the mind. Ayurvedic treatments are not only rejuvenating but also relaxing.

One of our favorite spots to stay for a complete Ayurvedic treatment is the Carnoustie Ayurveda and Wellness Resort in Mararikkulam. This resort offers holistic treatments that combine Ayurveda, yoga, mantra, and naturopathy.

The Ayurvedagram and the Indus Valley Ayurvedic Center in Karnataka are also good places to go.

Perfect for: Travelers trying to de-stress and relax

Insider tip: To get the best prices on all-inclusive Ayurveda resorts, go during the monsoon season from June to September when many hotels drop their prices by half.

4. Take a Yoga Class

Recommended visiting time: 2 hours

Yoga is an integral part of Hinduism and has been practiced in India for centuries as a way of freeing the mind, body, and spirit. There are many yoga centers in India providing everything from in-depth courses to flexible drop-in classes.

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.

We love staying at the Niraamaya Retreats Surya Samudra in Kovalam. This palm-shaded hotel contains a series of heritage cottages located on a cliff above the Arabian Sea.

The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center in Trivandrum is the best place to go for yoga lessons and also more intense yoga programs that range from two to four week courses. The Namaste Ayurvedic Wellness Centre is the perfect place to stay for some yoga, spiritual exploration, and healing./p>

Perfect for: People looking for a relaxing and spiritual vacation

Insider tip: Combine your yoga practice with holistic treatments and Ayurvedic food to get the best results. /p>

5. Enroll in a Cooking Class

Recommended visiting time: half-day

Every year, an increasing number of travelers want to take cooking classes in India and learn about the fresh spices and flavors of Indian cuisine. Kerala is particularly famous for its delicious cuisine with its subtle spice, fresh seafood, and sweet coconut.

Single-day classes are the more popular option for beginners that have a general interest in learning about the cuisine. There are also many homestays with extended residential programs that cater to those who want to have a more in-depth culinary experience.

Haritha Farm's Pimenta Spice Garden Bungalows and Philipkutty's Farm are some of the best places that offer intensive courses on how to cook Keralan food.

During a cooking course, guests will learn to transform ingredients such as rice, fish, chicken, and prawn into dishes such as Kerala fish curry and Puttu, a steamed rice cake with grated coconut.

Perfect for: Travelers who want to learn to cook Indian dishes

Insider tip: Shorter cooking courses are available in Cochin where you can learn to cook with the fresh catch of the day or with entirely vegetarian ingredients.

6. See Endangered Wildlife

Recommended visiting time: half-day

Kerala is blessed with a variety of wildlife in its lush green rain forests. This has attracted many nature-lovers who come to explore and witness the wildlife for themselves.

There are several popular wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala housing exotic and rare species of flora and fauna. In Kerala’s Western Ghat Mountains there are fourteen wildlife sanctuaries and two tiger reserves where you can see endangered species like the Indian Sloth-Bear and Bengal Tiger.

Periyar National Park, one of Kerala’s most magnificent attractions, is the most popular national park in South India. Unlike other national parks, Periyar stays open during the monsoon season.

Taking a boat safari is the best option to see the wildlife of Periyar. On your boat tour, you will have the chance to spot wild animals such as elephants, wild boar and Sambar deer near the Periyar Lake.

Perfect for: Wildlife enthusiasts

Insider tip: While Periyar National Park stays open during the monsoon season, the boat safaris are not available at that time. The best time to visit national parks in Kerala is from March to May when the weather is the hottest and the animals are the most active.

7. Visit a Tea Plantation

Recommended visiting time: 3 hours

India is one of the largest tea growers in the world and Kerala holds some of the country’s top tea plantations. Wayanad, a lush mountainous area, produces a significant amount of tea but the most popular tea destination in Kerala is Munnar.

Munnar is South India's largest tea-growing region and contains carefully cultivated tea estates sprawling across its rolling hills. Here, travelers can drive or walk along the winding roads that cut through acres of finely clipped tea plants.

By visiting a tea plantation, you can view and experience the process of harvesting and planting tea for yourself. You can also sip on various types and flavors of tea and carry home some of your favorite ones as souvenirs for your loved ones.

You can head to India's first Tea Museum at Nallathanni Estate to learn about the history of tea production in Munnar. The Parisons Plantation Experiences in Wayanad is also a good place to visit to explore the tea factories.

Perfect for: Tea lovers

Insider tip: Munnar has many beautiful hiking trails that will lead you through plantations and into the surrounding forests.

8. Visit a Spice Plantation

Recommended visiting time: 3 hours

While most people know that spices are very important in Indian cuisine, it is a little known fact that around 80% of the spices in the world come from India. If you want to learn more about spices, then Kerala is a great place to explore the aromatic plantations and witness the process of growing spice from the plant to the powder.

Abraham’s Spice Garden in Thekkady grows entirely organic spices and employees naturalist guides who can explain the process of growing the spices to visitors. Here, you will find coffee, pepper, vanilla, and cocoa plants.

Located 13 kilometers outside of Munnar, the Cinnamon Gardens Spices Plantation is a great place to stop by after exploring a tea plantation. Cinnamon Gardens grows black pepper, tulsi, cardamom, and cinnamon.

Perfect for: People who are interested in learning about the aromatic spices of India

Insider tip: Most hotels can arrange a spice plantation tour for you.

9. Go on a Food Tour

Recommended visiting time: half-day

With a long coastline that borders the Arabian Sea, Kerala is home to numerous delightful seafood dishes. Common ingredients in Keralan cuisine include mussels, crab, tiger prawns, king prawns, oysters, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and red lobsters. Although seafood is often used, Kerala does also offer plenty of great vegetarian dishes.

Keralan food is famous for its sweet and flavorful spices. Many dishes in this South Indian state are enhanced with chilies, curry leaves, mustard seeds, turmeric, tamarind, black pepper, cardamom, clove, ginger, cinnamon, and asafetida. One of the most popular Keralan delicacies is Puttu and Kadala Curry which is a steamed rice cake cooked with coconut shavings and served with black chickpea curry.

A great way to experience the food of Kerala is to go on a food tour. Tours are available in major cities such as Kochi and Kozhikode. During your tour, you will explore the streets and bazaars of the city to try some of the best street food such as Chatti pathiri, a sweet pastry stuffed with raisins and fruits, and Pazham nirachathu, deep-fried raw banana pieces stuffed with coconut and sugar.

Perfect for: Foodies

Insider tip: Some food tours also take travelers to spice warehouses and markets so they can learn more about the flavors they are tasting.

10. Celebrate a Festival

Recommended visiting time: 1 day

Kerala is a state with its own unique culture and traditions and nowhere else is this visible than during one of its beautiful festivals. By experiencing a festival in Kerala, travelers get the chance to gain a deeper insight into the local culture and its traditions.

The most popular celebration in Kerala is Onam. Onam is a ten-day harvest festival that is celebrated in August and September with much grandeur and fanfare. During this festival, houses are decorated with flowers, presents are exchanged, and distant relatives travel to their home town to reunite with family.

One of the best places to celebrate Onam is at the Thrikkakara Temple in Kochi. The highlight of the festivities is the grand procession during which the main deity, Vamana, is carried around the temple grounds on a decorated elephant.

Perfect for: People who would like to experience new cultures.

Insider tip: Most festivals in Kerala are based on the lunar calendar and change slightly every year, so make sure to double-check the dates before you go.

11. Unwind at the Beach

Recommended visiting time: 4 hours

The beaches in Kerala are largely crowd-free and undeveloped, making them more relaxing and clean than the beaches in the more touristy areas of the country.

One of the favorite beaches among travelers in Kerala is Varkala. Varkala provides beautiful scenery and is lined with small beach shacks and palm trees. This beach is a wonderful place to relax and unwind while listening to the crashing waves. In the afternoon, travelers can settle into one of the beach shacks with a drink to get a beautiful view of the sunset.

Kovalam is Kerala's most famous beach town. Unlike Varkala, Kovalam has been more developed and has more hotels and restaurant options. Kovalam is a great place to go if you want to participate in water sports, do yoga, or get Ayurvedic massages.

Perfect for: Beach lovers and people looking to get a few days of sun during their travels

Insider tip: December to March is the best time for a beach visit in Kerala as the weather is comfortable and dry.

12. Watch a Snake Boat Race

Recommended visiting time: 2 hours

Snake Boat Races are one of the events that are unique to Kerala. A snake boat is a long canoe-like boat that can hold up to 100 rowers. Snake boat races are typically held from July to September and are especially popular during Onam.

Each village in Kerala participates in building their own colorful boat which they will enter into the races with their best rowers. Every year, the villagers will get together to race the boats in specified lakes and rivers. Boat races normally include other cultural activities such as music and dancing.

By attending a race, guests can take in the fun atmosphere as they watch the snake boats compete with the locals cheering them on.

The best race to see is the spectacular Nehru Trophy race held on Alleppey's Punnamda Lake.

Perfect for: People who want to learn about new cultures

Insider tip: To get an up-close view of the races, you can rent a boat and observe the activities from the water.

13. Watch the Kalaripayattu Martial Art performance

Recommended visiting time: 1 hour

Kalaripayattu is an ancient martial art form practiced in Kerala. Kalaripayattu is considered to be among the oldest and most scientific martial arts in the world. Unlike other martial art forms, the intense training of Kalaripayattu focuses not just on exercise and physical agility, but also on the energy system of the body.

Kalaripayattu combines a wide range of combat techniques from hand-to-hand combat to fighting with various weapons such as long staff, sword and shield, spear, and mace.

You can catch a Kalaripayattu performance at the Kadathanadan Kalari Center in Thekkady. Performances last for 1 hour and include the lighting of traditional lamps, a flower offering to a deity, and a brief introduction about the sport.

Perfect for: Martial art enthusiasts

Insider tip: Watching a Kalaripayattu performance is a great way to learn more about Kerala’s warrior culture.

14. Watch a Kathakali performance

Recommended visiting time: 1 hour

Kathakali is a unique and ancient form of traditional dance that is native to Kerala. This dance style is over 300-years-old and combines acting, dance, music, costumes, and colorful makeup into a beautiful art form.

Kathakali dancers traditionally wear colorful costumes that aid them in portraying ancient stories through their subtle dance movements. Performers must undergo intense training, including hours of eye exercises, when learning the art of Kathakali.

The Cochin Cultural Center or the Kerala Kathakali Center are good places to see a Kathakali performance. Each show costs around 350 rupees and starts at 6 pm daily.

Perfect for: People who are interested in Indian dance and culture

Insider tip: Watching a Kathakali performance is a good way to spend an enjoyable evening after a day of walking and sightseeing.

15. Visit Fort Kochi

Recommended visiting time: Half-day

Fort Kochi is the old colonial district of the city of Kochi and is one of the top attractions in Kerala. Kochi was once a very important port city and has been heavily influenced by Arabic, British, Dutch, Chinese, and Portuguese culture.

Here, travelers can go for a heritage walk that allows them to learn about the history of the area and the events that have shaped it and its landmarks.

There are many historical sites to see in Fort Kochi the most famous of which include the Jewish Synagogue, the Indo Portuguese Museum, the Chinese Fishing Nets, the Santa Cruz Basilica, and Fort Kochi Beach.

The St. Francis Church is the most famous landmark in Fort Kochi and is a 16th-century Portuguese church that is believed to be one of the oldest in India. The church is famous as the location where the body of the legendary explorer Vasco da Gama was buried before being transferred back to Portugal.

Perfect for: People who want to explore colonial architecture along with boutique shops and cafes.

Insider tip: A great way to explore Fort Kochi is to rent a bicycle and wander through the quaint streets and historical sites of this town.

Kerala Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to visit Kerala?

Kerala can be visited throughout the year. However, the peak tourist season is between December and March when the weather is dry and warm making it a great time for exploring and outdoor activities.

Kerala has a long monsoon season which lasts from June to November. The monsoon season is not a good time to visit Kerala for those who are interested in participating in outdoor activities such as hiking and wildlife viewing, but it is a great time for Ayurvedic treatments and yoga retreats.

Where is the best place to go for a one-day trip to Kerala?

Kochi is the best place to visit for a one-day trip to Kerala. Here travelers can explore the many historical sites in Fort Kochi including the Jewish Synagogue, the Indo Portuguese museum, and the Chinese Fishing Nets. You can also check out some aromatic spice shops and modern art galleries.

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Explore Kerala with Asia Highlights

The beautiful state of Kerala is filled with many unique and interesting activities to experience. If you are thinking of planning a trip to Kerala then we can help. At Asia Highlights, our experts can tailor-make your trip so that you can have the best journey with the least hassle.

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