Have you ever been on an unplanned holiday? Well Kerala was one of those holidays for us where we planned as we travelled, turned out one of the best.
In the South of India, known as God’s own country is the beautiful Kerala. Kerala is known for many things- its tea plantation; its calm backwater experience; the various Ayurvedic centres; their local food; yearly boat races; its various boat ride experience; its national parks and its beaches.
We had planned this holiday after having a very stressful couple of months. When we choose this destination never did we think it would help us relax.
If it wasn’t for the road journeys Kerala would have been ‘Paradise’ for me.
The highlight for me would be the backwaters. I would like to return to Kerala and only experience the Backwaters again.
TIME TO VISIT IN KERALA
We visited Kerala in the first week of September. We were welcomed with pleasant weather and throughout our stay experienced rain only on the last day. During our visit it wasn’t that crowded, hence we were able to enjoy the quietness.
Although Kerala can be enjoyed throughout the year, you have to plan depending on your main purpose of visit. If you want to enjoy the backwaters then November to February would be the ideal time. If you want to enjoy the tea plantation then April to June is the best time to visit as it is summer during this time.
I would not recommend visiting Kerala during the monsoons, which is from June to September. Of late Kerala has been hit hard with the monsoons as a result there could be many road closures. If however you want to visit for Ayurvedic treatments only then this would be a good time to visit.
TRAVELING AROUND KERALA
For me the traveling between cities in Kerala was the worst experience. We both have problems with road journey hence we dreaded it. The roads from one city to another is passing through hills resulting in zig zag roads. The drivers usually are very rash due to the long distance hence speeding is always an issue.
To get to Kerala we had chosen plane and from there between cities we had hired private car. There are also bus and train options available. We wanted to avoid the long journey from the train hence choose plane. For intercity travel there are local buses but since we fall sick in long road journeys we choose the private car options. While travelling from the airport to Munnar we had also shared private taxi with another couple.
WHERE WE STAYED IN KERALA
In Munnar we stayed at Elysium Garden Hill Resort for 2 nights with breakfast plan. It was a very simple room, which had an awesome view of Munnar. We weren’t totally happy with this hotel choice. Although Munnar is a hill station and the weather is cool, we would prefer to have a fan in the room. The hotel was also going through some renovation, hence we did find the place little noisy during the day. It is right at the main road and since there were less guests during our visit, we did find the place not too safe. We found the breakfast ok, nothing extraordinary. The only positive for us was the view from our room and the 20 min walk to the main town. Since it was renovated during my time it might have improved. Personally I would look at another option should I visit in Munnar again.
In Thekkady we stayed at Sterling Holidays Wood N Spice Resort for 2 nights with breakfast option. We actually had the whole hotel to our self during our stay as Kerala had gone on an overnight strike.
Just as the name suggests, the whole room was made from wood. Personally loved it until I saw a lizard and freaked out completely. The rooms were clean and the minimum staff that were available were friendly. We thoroughly enjoyed the various games set up throughout the hotel. The breakfast was minimum considering we were the only one I guess they didn’t prepare much. Overall it wasn’t a bad place to stay.
In Kumarakom we stayed at Abad Whispering Palms for 2 nights with breakfast plan.
I was in love with this hotel, we had booked to relax two days and this hotel totally offered that. Overlooking the banks of Vembanadu Lake the place was filled with lush greenery. There were individual bungalow rooms which were very well maintained.
The bathrooms were also different, a way to embrace nature. During our visit everything was very well maintained. The breakfast spread was really good and the staff made sure everything was well looked after. We had also used the spa service in the hotel and were very happy with it.
This was one of the best hotels we have stayed in. We had a special occasion hence we had splurged on this hotel and weren’t disappointed
In Kochi we stayed for one night at The Senate Hotel with breakfast plan. We had booked this hotel as an overnight stop.
We had an evening flight to catch and this hotel seemed ideal for a stay from our return from Kumarakom. We booked this hotel with least expectation hence weren’t disappointed with what we got. A plus for this budget hotel was everything was clean and staff were friendly. Given a choice again I might not stay here.
THINGS TO DO IN KERALA
Although our main aim of coming to Kerala was just to relax, we both couldn’t sit in the hotel for long. Hence we decided to do little sightseeing in the cities we were visiting.
THINGS WE DID IN MUNNAR
This is a concrete gravity dam which is used to store water using hydroelectricity. It is also known as the place where elephants in that region visit. The view from this dam is breath taking, different to the tea plantation which you see throughout Munnar.There are also motor and speed boats should you want to enjoy some time in the water. There is nothing much to do besides enjoying the scenic views. We did see locals enjoying a lovely picnic in the region.
POTHAMEDU VIEW POINT
A nice place to enjoy the panoramas of the tea plantation and the valley landscapes. Coming from Kochi this point makes us realised we have started entering Munnar.
There are many such views along the way when you are in Munnar, this one was given a name. We saw it during the day, however we were told by our driver the sunset view is very popular here.
TATA TEA MUSEUM
My main reason for visiting Munnar was to see the tea plantation. I was a coffee lover until I visited Munnar. The place starts with giving a small presentation on the history of the place. Then it goes on to explaining the whole process of how tea is made.
There are lots of information being shared which was interesting facts to know about brewing tea. They also had teas which they sold, nice souvenir to take back home. From our driver we also heard more stories about how the locals who work in the tea factories are looked after by the company. Some things done by the company included looking after their health, their stay and kids’ education. It felt like a very nice gesture.
CARMELAGIRI ELEPHANT PARK
When you think of Kerala one of the first thing which comes to mind are Elephants. There were various activities inside the park in relation to elephants namely bathing, ride and feeding. Most of the animals at such parks are trained to behave in a certain manner to entertain. I personally didn’t like seeing the animals tied in metal chains inside the park. We love to see animals but don’t like hurting them by taking a ride hence we didn’t.
Another scenic view to enjoy near the reservoir. Personally I have seen better echo points in my past travel. In Munnar tours when you hire a car this is included in the day tour. It is a very popular picnic spot for the locals too. Aside from the echo aspect I loved the view.
LOCKHART GAP VIEW
During our travel to Thekkady our driver stopped us at Lockhart Gap. It is 13 km from Munnar, a place where you can enjoy the panoramic view of the mountains and the hills. A bird’s eye view of the Bison Valley can also be enjoyed at this point. It can also be a very nice place for trekking.
We also visited a flower garden in Munnar. The place had lots of plants, all very colourful and very well looked after. Although initially we were told it is a rose garden, after exploring the place I could see lots of other plants as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of plants and flowers.
THINGS WE DID IN THEKKADY
POWER HOUSE WATERFALLS
On our way to Thekkady we had stopped at Power house Waterfall. The waterfalls from a height of about 2000 meter onto the steep rocks. It is also known as Chinnakanal waterfall and is named after a powerhouse. It is said to contain some minerals and locals consider it holy water.
There are many spice gardens which you will come across throughout Kerala. Most of the houses have it in their backyard which they share with the locals. Some charge entry fees along with selling the products.
Throughout our car travel our drivers used to ask us and hence choose one as we wanted to experience it. The house where we stopped was on our way to Thekkady. We enjoyed learning the various things the lady had to say. I would recommend it for the experience.
This town is near Thekkady and Periyar Tiger Reserve. We explored this small town on foot with no set itinerary. The people were very friendly and always welcomed every question with a warm smile.
PERIYAR NATIONAL PARK
The wildlife sanctuary is home to tigers, elephants, deer, leopards and Indian bison. We weren’t too convinced with what we had read about the place hence we didn’t do the national park. A local had actually told us that tourist are usually disappointed as they never get to see any animals.
In Periyar National Park we did enjoy the lake cruise. We visited early morning when the weather was warm and did see few animals at a distance – mostly bisons. Kerala turned out to be different boat experience for us and this was one of them. Although the place was very scenic, the boat was crowded and hence we lost the peaceful side of things.
THINGS WE DID IN KUMARAKOM
KUMARAKOM BIRD SANCTUARY OBSERVATORY TOWER
We were totally confused if we should do this. What if we never saw any birds? We decided to go early morning and initially during our trail we didn’t see anything. At one point we even gave up, but were loving being surrounded by greenery hence continued our trial. As we went deeper we started seeing the birds. There were many which we saw some for the first time. There is also an observatory deck to go up and see the place from a height. I would recommend doing it, do have patience though.
THE GREAT BACKWATERS
Our main aim of visiting Kerala was to enjoy the backwaters. A holiday to Kerala according to me is incomplete without enjoying this. We however had a problem, I usually get sea sick and my husband gets restless in confined spaces. Hence we decided to do daytime boat ride instead of the overnight stay.
The boats are usually run by a team of individuals. We were only two but got one which had three bedrooms inside. The rooms were well equipped with bathrooms, bed and air conditions. The place was very clean, we however never really got to use the bedrooms as we were there for roughly 6 hours only.
There were two people who were with us throughout our ride, one was the cook and another who handled the wheels.
In our package we also had lunch included where we got to enjoy the local cuisine. The food was very tasty, a lot of respect was given to the local produce. We throughout enjoyed the local cuisine especially with the scenic beauty.
The main thing to enjoy in the boat ride is the excruciating beauty of Kerala. The backwater runs throughout Kerala. It is covered with green plants growing along the banks, there are few homes along the way and various coconut trees planted along the coastlines. During our time we were the only boat hence the place was very peaceful. We could hear the birds singing along and the blue clouds moving along with us.
Our only regret in this whole thing was not staying here overnight. We later did feel since we survived the day we should have taken the full day option. We do plan to come back to Kerala just to do the backwaters.
THINGS WE DID IN ALLEPPEY
We had done a day trip to Alleppey hence we couldn’t do much. We choose to do something which Alleppey was famous for.
SHIKARA RIDE IN ALLEPPEY
Since weren’t sure of a houseboat, we decided to first try out the Shikara in Allepey. This is a wooden boat with a roof and walls covered with bamboo sheet where the driver is paddling at the rear. The boat we sat in was for 4 people. We thoroughly enjoyed the Shikara when passing through the narrow canals of Alleppey. This was my first experience in a Shikara, most people enjoy this in Dal Lake but I was happy relaxing in Kerala weather.
Being in Kerala since we never visited any beaches we decided to check out Allepey beach. This beach is said to have an old pier which is over 150 years old. During our visit the beach was empty and also very clean. I have heard people complain about the cleanliness in the beach, it wasn’t the case during our visit. We didn’t stay for long but in the short time that we were there we were totally in love with it. It would be a perfect place to spend some time alone to enjoy nature.
THINGS WE DID IN KOCHI
MARINE DRIVE KOCHI
A very busy waterfront district which is usually buzzing with people. When we visited the place it was raining, turned out to be a perfect time to enjoy the place all to our self. There are many shopping mall, cafes and restaurants in the vicinity. There are also some boating which you can enjoy but since it was raining we didn’t see any boats. After visiting the place I do feel it would be prettier at night.
I personally loved the Kettuvallam bridge near Goshree. It went very well with the whole place. I am told it is well lit up at night, since we visited it during the day we never did get to see it.
MAHATMA GANDHI BEACH
While exploring Kochi on foot we also passed the Mahatma Gandhi Beach. We didn’t actually go down to the beach, instead enjoyed the walk along the pavements. It wasn’t one of the cleanest place as compared to the rest of Kerala.
The highlight for us was seeing the use of Chinese Fishing nets. This was the first time we saw this and were totally amazed at how it worked. While speaking to the locals they explained to us the whole technique and even let my husband try his luck with it. The person who spoke to us was so friendly and explained everything with so much passion.
VASCO DA GAMA SQUARE
A popular beachfront promenade which had many food stalls along with fishermen with their huge nets and fishing rods. There were also many local shops nearby and cafes to enjoy the evening sunset. We didn’t go with much expectation and weren’t totally disappointed with what we saw. Compared to the rest of our trip, this place wasn’t that bad. I would recommend going in the evenings, we visited during the day and felt evenings would be great.
SANTA CRUZ CATHEDRAL BASILICA
At Fort Kochi we got to see one of the nine Basilicas in Kerala. Originally built by the Portuguese, which was later demolished and a new building in 1887 was commissioned. The church is beautiful inside special mention to the ceiling painting. There is a Portuguese Statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the chapel closed to the Basilica.
SAINT FRANCIS CHURCH
Oldest European church in India which was built in 1503. It is said in 1524 Vasco Da Gama died in Kochi and his body was originally buried in this church. The remains after fourteen years were moved to Lisbon. Given the age of the church restoration is needed. But I would recommend visiting it given the history behind the church.
OUR ITINERARY IN KERALA
Took early morning flight to Kochi. From Kochi hired a private to Munnar. Checked in and rested in our hotel. Evening walked to the nearby town to explore the place on foot.
Hired a private car for Munnar sightseeing. We were taken to flower garden, Tata tea museum, Pothamedu Viewpoint, Carmelagiri Elephant ride, and Echo point.
We hired a private car from Munnar to Thekkady. On the way we saw Lockhart Gap View, Powerhouse Waterfall and Mattupetty Dam.
Also stopped at a house and explored their spice garden.
Checked in the hotel and rested. For lunch we went to Kumely Town and explored the village. In the evening we relaxed in the hotel playing games.
We took a rick to Kumely town, from here went boating in Periyar National Park.
Since there was strike we decided to travel very early to Kumarakom in private car. In the afternoon walked around the neighbouring town on foot. Evening spent time in the hotel enjoying the Ayurvedic spa.
Had hired a private car to go on a day trip to Alleppey. On the way we visited Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. In Alleppey we enjoyed the Shikara ride.
Then went to see the Alleppey Beach.
We also visited the Alleppey market and did some souvenir shopping.
We had hired a houseboat in Kumarakom and enjoyed it till late afternoon.
We then took a private taxi to Kochi. In the evening took a small stroll near our hotel and explored Kochi on foot.
We explored most of Kochi on foot using google map. Walked to Marine Drive, Mahatma Gandhi Beach, Vasco Dama Gama Square, Saint Francis Church and Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica. In the evening took a flight back home.
THINGS TO NOTE IN KERALA
- Road journey can be very tedious, keep a day for relaxation when planning between city travels.
- Most of the sightseeing was planned by our drivers for the day in the order as per their convenience.
- Kerala has a union based taxi fares, hence transparency in the prices across city.
- In India should you hire a car for a full day then one meal is usually paid for the driver. Locals usually follow this, it’s not compulsory but it has been going on for long time.
- In between city travel most of the time the driver asks to stop at spice plantation. Choosing the right spice garden may not be easy. Usually the drivers are the ones who recommend. I am not sure how it works with the tour companies. This way you also get breaks from your long journey.
- We experienced an overnight strike being called by the government. We had to plan a travel early morning in order to avoid the strike. Speak to the driver, they usually will find you a solution.
- Tipping in India is usually done to your driver or your guide. Depending on how you liked the service you should tip. Most of the time they always do expect.
- Kerala is known for having 100% primary education, you will never struggle communicating here.
- There are many homestays in Kerala. This usually is a room in their property where hosts give local experience. We didn’t experience this so not sure how good they are.
- Don’t skip doing the backwaters. I usually get sea sick and was worried but had no issues.
- There are various ways to enjoy the backwaters. We had chosen Kumarakom as it was less busy. Alleppey is usually the popular place for hiring house boat. Since we don’t like the crowd we choose Kumarakom.
- There are various hotels and travel companies who you can go to for hiring a house boat. We actually spoke to our driver who happen to own one.
- In most National Parks you might not get to see as many animals as you expect.
- Kerala has snake boat race which happens from July to September. I would recommend seeing this, we missed it.
- I would highly recommend trying the local cuisine. The Karimeen Polichattu was so much fun during our experience in the Backwaters.
- Some of the popular souvenirs to take back home from Kerala includes tea, spices, cashews, spices, sea shell showpieces, wooden idols, Kathakali Masks, models of the different boats used in Kerala racing and Nettipattom (special ornament used to decorate elephants).