There are SO many cool things to do in Kerala, India – you definitely need to include a decent amount of time there in your India itinerary. I was in Kerala for 6 days, and loved the houseboats, the people, and of course, the food.
With over 600km of Arabian coastline, Kerala is known for its ber-utiful beaches, but inland is pretty cool too. Home to the Western Ghats mountains, parks like Eravikulam and Periyar and wildlife like tigers and elephants, there are plenty of activities to do in Kerala to keep you busy.
This Kerala travel guide will give you an insight into the many awesome things to do in Kerala. With 52 Kerala activities to choose from, you know it’s going to be wonderful!
Unique things to do in Kerala
1. Walk on almost water. Wait until the tide is low then walk to the private and pretty island of Dharmadam from Dharmadam Beach in Thalassery.
2. Strap on the boots and go hiking around the hills of Munnar.
3. Stop for a cuppa with a visit to one of Munnar’s many tea plantations – they’re one of the most iconic things to see in Kerala.
4. Travel in style on a traditional houseboat along the Alleppey backwaters.
5. Find yourself some wheels and visit Muzhappilangad’s drive-in beach where you can actually drive right up to the waves.
6. Spice up your life with a visit to one of the many spice farms in somewhere like Thekkady or Munnar. This is one of the most popular activities to do in Kerala.
7. Chill out in the tiny surf and hipster town of Kovalam. You’ll find one of the best beaches in Kerala here.
8. Become a member of the nighttime Periyar jungle patrol protecting the tiger reserve.
9. Watch the fishermen and master crafts with a day in a rural village like Kovalam or Wayanad and try the local cuisine.
10. Try some of the best food in Kerala and get your five a day by loading up on banana fritters served Kerala style.
11. Time a visit to the famous Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi at sunset. They’re one of the most unique things to see in Kerala.
12. You absolutely have to go and watch the colourful and creative traditional dance at a Kathakali Show. When I went they got my friend up on stage to take part, and even though it was a few years ago now, we still like to laugh at the memory. Don’t sit near the front!
You can read more about my Kathakali experience in my post about my 6 days in Kerala.
13. Go veggie and stop by the Sree Arul Jyothi vegetarian restaurant in Thiruvananthapuram.
14. Crack out the binoculars for a bit of birdwatching at the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. Even if you’re not really that into birds it’s amazing to see the colourful displays.
15. Do Bargain Hunt Kerala style with a bit of antiquing on Jew Town Street in Fort Kochi.
16. Get up close to Nellie by bathing an elephant at the Kodanad Elephant Training Centre.
17. Make like Tarzan and live amongst the wildlife with an overnight stay in a tree house like Jungle Jive’s.
18. Indulge yourself with a traditional and yoga-inspired medicinal Ayurvedic treatment.
19. Fancy a glass of sap? Swap out the beer for what locals call a toddy, the traditional liquor created from the sap of palm trees.
20. Strike your power pose to the backdrop of Fort Kochi’s selection of graffiti and street art.
21. Step back in time with a trip to Muziris, a legendary seaport once hailed as the ‘ancient world’s greatest trading centre’.
22. For all things fishy head to 3rd Rock Cafe in Kovalam where you can even see the fishermen from your seat before you tuck in to some of the best seafood Kerala has to offer.
23. Learn about the history of our love for leaves at the Munnar Tea Museum.
24. Feel refreshed and a little perkier after taking a quick dip in the mineral, and supposedly medicinal waters, of Varkala Beach.
25. Spend a day filling up your camera roll with snaps of the beautiful wildlife and landscapes of the Silent Valley National Park.
26. Pack a picnic and go boating on the Veli Lagoon.
27. Walk the length of the Marine Drive promenade in Kochi.
28. Wake up happy knowing you don’t have to travel far for good coffee with an overnight on a coffee plantation.
29. Trek to the top of the Western Ghats’ Banasura Hill and get that classic tree swing picture – one of the top things to do in India.
30. Kerala loves a mural and you can see some of the best at the Thirunadhikkara Cave Temple.
31. Travel back in time with a visit to the Edakkal Caves in Wayanad where you can see some pre-historic cave paintings.
32. Find your way to the biggest falls of Kerala, Athirapally Waterfalls. It’s one of the most beautiful sights in Kerala.
33. Pick up some boat building skills in Beyore, known as a shipbuilders paradise.
34. Be a beach bum on the quieter Marari Beach.
35. Become slightly addicted to drinking from a coconut – available all over Kerala.
36. Be a little nosy and visit a heritage house, aka a tharavad, to see what a traditional Keralan home looks like.
37. Add another farm to the list and get a good dose of Vitamin C with a day trip to one of the orange farms of Nelliyampathy.
38. Go bamboo rafting through the forests of Periyar.
Listen to my podcast!
I caught up with Ellie, who runs the travel blog Wandering Quinn. She’d just spent four months in India and travelled around extensively. If you want to learn more about India before your trip, have a listen on Spotify. Or here on iTunes.
39. See how the royals lived with a visit to the Mattancherry Palace in Ernakulam.
40. Marvel at the musical dancing fountain in Thenmala in Kollam.
41. Take to the jeeps and do a safari at one of the many wildlife sanctuaries like Wayanad, Periyar or Gavi.
42. Learn about the culture of Kerala with a trip to the Museum of History & Heritage.
43. Embrace that child’s pose with a yoga session somewhere like the Palm Tree Yoga Centre or Padmakarma.
44. Help rejuvenate India’s love of street magicians with a visit to Magic Planet Theme Park.
45. Catch a session of kalaripayattu, aka the mother of all martial arts, at the Kalari Kshethra temple.
46. Fill up on 187 types of dosa, the Indian version of a pancake, at Pai Brothers in Kochi. Definitely one of the best things to eat in Kerala.
Click to download these top things to do in Kerala in PDF to your phone, for easy reference!
47. Go boating on the Pookot Lake but, be warned that it’s strictly forbidden to pick out the blue lilies no matter how badly you want to put one in your hair.
48. Freak yourself out with a visit to the Parassinikkadavu Snake Park – you’ll see some of Kerala’s most famous animals here.
49. Visit the Indo-Portuguese Museum to understand more about why there’s so much Portuguese influence in the state.
50. See things from a different perspective by paragliding over the Varkala beach and cliffs. Definitely one of the most adventurous things to do in Kerala!
51. Make your way through the Indian beverages at Nasha, a bar just inside the Metropolitan Hotel in Kochi. Maybe a good one for your first night in Kerala, so you’ve got time to recover the next day before your onwards flight!
52. Stay at the Marari Beach Resort for some serious luxury in the heart of Kerala.
When to visit Kerala
Kerala is the perfect destination if you’re travelling through the winter months – go between December and February if you’re planning to hit the beach. Conversely, the ‘opposite’ end of the year (August to October) is a frantic period in the Keralan calendar – chock full of religious festivals and snake-boat races – it’s the ideal time to visit for a taste of south Indian culture but late enough to dodge the last downpours of the monsoon season.
Getting around Kerala
Kerala is about as far south as you can get in India so it’s not the easiest place to get to. Many backpackers ‘in situ’ head here after spending time in Goa but even that takes nearly five hours by air and up to three times longer by road! If you’re flying in from elsewhere you’ll have to take a connecting flight from a major Indian hub, such as Mumbai, to one of Kerala’s two international airports, Cochin or Trivandrum.
Depending how you get into Kerala you’re likely to find yourself in one of three cities on arrival – Kochi (Cochin), Kozhikode (Calicut) or Thiruvanthapuram (Trivandrum), and you should aim to end your travels here too, if you don’t want to find yourself stranded with no easy travel options back out.
Staying in Kerala
The Happy Camper in Fort Cochin is the definition of cheap and cheerful. It even promises ‘happy beds’ and, as they’re apparently quite a bit softer than a typical Indian bed, they’ll be welcomed by the weariest of backpackers. With standard private en-suite rooms for two starting at just 500 INR (around £5) a night, it consistently offers clean facilities and thoughtful touches, including bedside plug sockets and lockers.
LoveDale is a romantically named budget hotel located in the centre of colonial tea station, Munnar. Prices are higher than other parts of Kerala because of its picturesque hilltop location, starting from around 1,800 INR (just £19), but the hotel boasts several double bedrooms as well as conventional dorms, making it the perfect choice for backpacking couples looking for a bit of downtime.
Eating in Kerala
Keralan cuisine is defined by its location; its 370-mile long coast means seafood and shellfish of every description find their way into the local food. But Keralans also borrow from the communities who’ve settled in the region and you’ll notice nods to Portuguese, Syrian and Hindu cuisine in regional specialities. Kerala gets its name from the Malayalam word for coconut tree, ‘kera’, so expect coconut to feature heavily on most menus. I think it gives Keralan food a distinctly Thai twist making it taste lighter and fresher than food eaten elsewhere in India.
Masala Fort in Kochi is a good option if you’ve just arrived in Kerala and want food that’s cheap but good, and served with at least some of the home comforts. With meals (starter, main, rice and a drink) starting at around 300 INR (about £3), it’s hard to argue with the value and many travellers staying in the Cochin area end up eating here time and time again.
If you’re less concerned about sampling the local cuisine, Zam Zam is an excellent choice in Trivandrum. It’s not only rated the best budget restaurant in the city but it’s one of the best regardless of price too – can’t argue with that! Zam Zam specialises in northern Indian food and it’s so popular with locals and visitors you’ll probably have to wait for a table – thanks to the super fast service you’ll never have to wait long though. With meals again priced around 300 INR (£3) stop by if you want to eat and get back out again without delay – fast food Keralan style!
For a totally authentic but budget-friendly experience, eat on a traditional Keralan houseboat; you might have to muck in and help out with the cooking but, hey, it’s part of the appeal! Alternatively, Kallu shaps, or ‘Toddy shops’, are to be found throughout the region, serving Kallu/Toddy, a fresh palm drink derived from the coconut tree. Many Toddy vendors also serve a Keralan speciality, Karimeen Fry; a local fish shallow-fried in coconut oil.
Shopping in Kerala
Spice is the variety of life?
OK, usually people say that the other way around, but in Kerala ‘the Spice Garden of India’ it really does provide the variety – ranging from allspice and aniseed, through cloves, cardamom and cinnamon, to mace, nutmeg, pepper and tamarind, Kerala is India’s leading producer of spices. Small and cheap, easily packed, why not indulge your tastebuds in some local spices? You’ll have the authentic finishing touches for your own attempts at Keralan cuisine once you get home – but don’t forget to check they’re allowed through customs!
Things to do in Kerala
India’s cities are heaven or hell for backpackers – a densely packed population can conjure an invigorating energy like no other… or a nightmare scenario if you prefer the road less travelled. For travellers who prefer to stay far from the madding crowd Kerala is that road, a unique glimpse at an India normally only associated with chilled-out Goa.
Kerala’s further south than Goa and, like Goa, it sits on the Arabian Sea coast but at the very tip of India, close to the island of Sri Lanka. Arguably, Kerala has more in common with its island neighbour than with the busy north of India. There are so many wonderful things to do in Kerala, and I hope this article has given you some ideas!
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