Kerala, stretching 550 km along India’s southwestern coast, is like a thin strip of land. Major part of its eastern border is hemmed in by the forested hills of Western Ghats. Kerala’s hill stations, beach towns and backwater villages makes one wonder that nature has been very generous to this state. There are three major religions in Kerala: Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. All three religions appear to be woven into one common cultural fabric. The people here have maintained most of their traditional ways of cooking, dressing and celebrating. Hence along with the entrancing natural beauty, Kerala also offers a window to a unique culture.
Thiruvananthapuram, also called Trivandrum, is the capital of Kerala. It is situated just a couple of kilometres inland from Arabian sea. Spread across seven low hills, this city was once the seat of power for Travancore royals. Trivandrum houses the administrative headquarters of Kerala. This city does a good job of showcasing the art and architecture of the state. The buildings of Puthenmalika Palace Museum, Kanakakunnu Palace, Anantha Padmanabhaswamy Temple and Napier Museum display the traditional Kerala architecture. The Padmanabhaswamy temple is open only to the Hindus. Trivandrum, being close to the southern tip of India, can be utilized as a base to explore Kanyakumari. Read More
Location: Trivandrum is 92 km northwest of Kanyakumari and 289 km south of Kochi (Cochin).
Kovalam is just 10 km south of Trivandrum. Once a small fishing village, today it is amongst the major travel destinations in Kerala. The tourism here owes to its palm- fringed beaches which are dominated by the rocky promontories. The coast of Kovalam is divided into three beaches: Hawah Beach (Eve’s Beach), Lighthouse Beach, and Samudra Beach. All are within walking distance of each other. Kovalam has got everything that a popular beach destination should have. It has hotels, resorts, cafes, shacks, sundecks and crowds. The seclusion can be earned by walking north along the shore. Read More
Location: Kovalam is 18 km south of Trivandrum.
Varkala’s picturesque shore with white sands lie under the red laterite cliffs. The beach of Varkala, called ‘Papnasam’ (sin destroyer), is of importance to both: devout Hindus and beach-lovers. While beach-lovers like its peaceful character, the Hindus consider it pious to immerse here the ashes of their deceased relatives. They worship at the Janardan Swamy, situated on a hillock to the south, before performing the last rites. The northern end of the shore is meant for the tourists, there you’ll find a clutch of cafes and shacks. About a km further is the serene black-sand beach of Odayam. Read More
Kollam town sits snug in between the waters of the Arabian Sea and the Ashtamudi Lake. Most of the tourists use this town as a pit-stop, after completing their backwater tour from Alleppey. The backwaters of Ashtamudi Lake, not being popular, have lesser houseboat traffic than Alleppey. There are a couple of beaches around the town. Kollam was a busy port in the past before Cochin and Calicut took over. Read More
Location: Kollam is 65 km north of Trivandrum
Ponmudi is a small hill station, 56 km northeast of Trivandrum. A winding road, traversing through the wooded hills of Western Ghats, leads to Ponmudi from Trivandrum. Situated at a height of 3002 ft, this town is surrounded by verdant hills and valleys. For most of the year this beautiful landscape is covered in the thick veil of mist. The wildflowers growing on the banks of gurgling brooks turn the place more beautiful. Ponmudi offers very few stay options. And probably that’s the reason it has been saved from the onslaught of mass tourism. Read More
Kochi is the most cosmopolitan city of Kerala and is also one of the prime tourist destinations. Along with being one of the busiest ports in India, Kochi has an interesting past. The traces of its history can be seen in the old city – Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. To explore Kochi, it is better to understand its orientation. The mainland of Kochi is called Ernakulam which is the business district. To the west of the mainland is the peninsula which encloses Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. In between are several islands – Willingdon, Vypeen, Bolghatty, Vallar Padam and Gundu.
Location: Kochi is 289 km north of Trivandrum.
Ernakulam, occupying the major part of Kochi, is more urban than any other place in Kerala. It has an interesting location. On its west it is bounded by the backwaters. Ferry rides through these backwaters lead to the islands and the peninsular Fort Kochi. Ernakulam and Fort Kochi are on either sides of Willingdon Island and connected to it through a series of bridges. Hence it is also possible to drive up to Fort Kochi from Ernakulam.
Location: Ernakulam occupies the eastern Kochi and is the newer part of the city.
The floods of the 14th-century formed a natural harbour at Kochi. The peninsular Fort Kochi became an entrance to the harbour. Looking at the prospects of trade, the royals arrived and based themselves here. They were later followed by the Portuguese and the Dutch. The British were the last to administer Fort Kochi before the independence. Today, by walking around in this sleepy area, you can soak yourself in the colonial history of Kochi. While much has changed since independence, Fort Kochi still retains many colonial era structures and much of its charm. Read More
Location: The peninsular Fort Kochi, situated along the coast, occupies the old Kochi city.
Munnar is a hill town in Kerala, situated in the middle of the principal tea-producing region of the state. This town sits in the valley floor surrounded by the Kannan Devan Hills, south of Western Ghats. While the town is only a cluster of shops and guesthouses, its surroundings are picturesque. Driving through the tea-carpeted undulating hills is an unforgettable experience. Kannan Devan Hills are home to some of the highest tea estates of the country. Eravikulam, near Munnar, is a national park which is home to the endangered Nilgiri Tahr. The best way to enjoy Munnar is by opting to stay in one of the tea plantations.
Location: Munnar is 130 km east of Kochi.
Thekkady is the gateway to one of the largest national parks in India – Periyar Tiger Reserve. It is spread across 777 sq km in the cardamom hills of the Western Ghats. The park is centred on the expansive and labyrinthine Periyar Lake. The main activity for the travellers to Thekkady is to explore the park. There are two-hour boat cruises, operated by KTDC and Forest Department, for exploring the sanctuary. In fact many domestic tourists arrive in Thekkady just for these boat rides. There are even chances that you’ll get to spot a herd of elephants guzzling water on the shore. If you are a wildlife enthusiast wanting to spot more animals, opt for trekking in the sanctuary. Thekkady also offers activities like elephant rides and spice plantation visits. The nearby area where you can find hotels and a market is called Kumily. Read More
Location: Thekkady is 157 km southeast of Kochi and 90 km south of Munnar.
Alleppey’s claim to fame is its proximity to the expansive Vembanad lake and its location on the inland waterway. Alleppey serves as a convenient starting or ending point for a backwater excursion. This town is good for a stopover before going further, but if you want spend more time here, you need to be selective about your stay. To enjoy an experiential stay in Alleppey, opt to stay in a hotel or a resort on the bank of the lake. You can also choose to stay in any of the surrounding villages situated by the backwater channels. Alleppey hosts the annual ‘ Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race’ – one of the most popular events of Kerala. Read More
Location: Alleppey is 53 km south of Kochi.
Kottayam town is a busy commercial town situated along the inland waterways in central Kerala. It is surrounded by the tiny nondescript villages situated by the backwaters. These villages are dotted with resorts and homestays and are popular amongst a segment of travellers. These sleepy villages enclose expansive paddy fields and their mud paths are lined by coconut and banana trees. The people of these villages religiously hold on to their culture and traditions. Hence, along with admiring the beauty of the backwater villages, here you get a taste of their culture and lifestyle.
Location: Kottayam is 62 km southeast of Kochi and 47 km northeast of Kochi.
Kumarakom is a small village situated on the southeastern shore of the Vembanad Lake. It is mostly visited for its bird sanctuary, situated by the lake. You need to walk the 2 km trail of the park early in the morning to spot the birds. Kumarakom also has a few resorts dotting the shore of the Vembanad lake. Being away from the commercial world, Kumarakom is a good place to enjoy a serene holiday.
Location: Kumarakom is 48 km southeast of Kochi and 32 km northeast of Alleppey.
Vagamon is a small hill station situated at a height of 3600 ft in the Idukki district in Kerala. It is for those who are looking for a quiet retreat in the hills. For activity, here you’ll get opportunities for walks and drives in the hills. The area around Vagamon comprises of undulating hills, green meadows, pine forest, tea estates, and waterfalls. The pristine beauty of this town owes to its lack of popularity. This town receives fewer tourists as compared to its neighbours like Munnar and Thekkady. Yet there are several resorts and mid-range hotels scattered around the town. Read More
Palakkad, situated at the base of the Western Ghats, is the seventh most populated city in Kerala. Its name suggests that once its land must have been covered with dense forests, but today the plantations of paddy and tobacco have taken over. The 18th-century fort of Tipu Sultan, whose walls are made up of granite blocks, stands in the middle of the city. This well-preserved fort encloses a Hanuman Temple and an old jail. Read More
Location: Palakkad is 52 km southwest of Coimbatore and 144 km northeast of Kochi.
Silent Valley National Park
Silent Valley National Park, situated in the Palakkad district, is spread across 91 sq km in the Nilgiri Hills. It is an important part of Nilgiri Biosphere and is known for its rare plants and herbs. The wildlife in this park includes lion-tailed macaque, elephant, sloth bear, Nilgiri langur, tiger and various species of birds. Mannarkkad, which has a few hotels, can be utilized as a base to explore this park. Only jeeps are allowed in the park.
Location: Silent Valley National Park is 57 km north of Palakkad.
Thrissur, founded in the 18th-century by Raja Rama Verma, is a temple town and a market hub. Its 9th-century Shiva temple, Vadakkunnathan Temple, has splendid wood carvings (only Hindus are allowed in). Thrissur is often written as the cultural capital of Kerala because it shelters two prominent state-run cultural institutions. The Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy is the school of music and drama and Kerala Sahitya Academy is the school of literature. When in Thrissur, don’t forget to check out its state museum and Archaeological museum.
Location: Thrissur is 86 km north of Kochi.
Kozhikode, a coastal town in North Kerala, has been busy since centuries in packaging, warehousing and exporting spices and coffee. Also called Calicut, this town was once the stronghold of Zamorin rulers. Vasco da Gama had landed here on a nearby beach in 1498 and was invited by a Zamorin king in his palace. Kozhikode’s past is historical, but today its dwellers seem to be less interested in looking back. A handful of old buildings have been able to retain their existence in this bustling city. The buildings of town hall, public library and a few Moppila Muslim mosques are reminiscent of the town’s history. This town is also home to the art gallery of Raja Ravi Verma, a popular painter of the 19th-century.
Location: Kozhikode is 183 km north of Kochi.
Kasaragod is a busy town on the northern tip of Kerala. It serves as a base to explore the forts and beaches of the Kasargod district. Bekal fort, situated by the sea, is the largest and most well-preserved fort in Kerala. Chandragiri fort, situated on the banks of Chandraguri river, was built in the 17th-century. From Kasargod, you can also plan an excursion to Ranipuram – a small hill station – to take glimpses of its rubber and spice plantations. If you like peaceful beaches, consider visiting Pallikere and Kappil beaches.
Location: Kasargod is 187 km north of Kozhikode.
The hill district of Wayanad, spread over the Western Ghats in north Kerala, is home to the verdant rainforests. The hills of this region are scattered with plantations of tea, coffee, cardamom and pepper. The wildlife sanctuary of Wayanad is part of the eco-sensitive ‘Nilgiri Biosphere’. This sanctuary is good for spotting wild elephants. Along with the bounties of nature, Wayanad also encloses a few remains from the past. There are remains of an 18th-century fort, built by Tipu Sultan, near Sultan Bathery. Edakkal caves, 12 km from Sultan Bathery, have prehistoric carvings; the caves are said to be more than 8000 years old. There is a 13th-century Jain Temple, dedicated to 24th ‘Tirthankara’ Mahavir Swamy, in Sultan Bathery.
Travel Tip: While the resorts are spread across entire Wayanad region, the town of Kalpetta has many budget hotels.
Location: Kalpetta, in Wayanad, is 137 km southwest of Mysore.