Since just living is not enough, one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower! Add to this list a few quaint sea towns, misty coffee plantations on gently sloping hill terraces, languid backwaters, and soul food, and you have a perfect reason to visit God’s own country Kerala one fine winter.
For me, Kerala happened at the end of a tedious semester when I couldn’t take another day at the campus anymore. It was time to throw off the bowlines and sail far far away from familiar harbors.
Kerala tantalizes with typical backpacking goals, of trekking around the Nilgiris, stopping at hip hostels, yoga, and surf on the beach, photo-ops amid wilderness, touring spice gardens and coffee plantations, recharging body, and spirits with Ayurveda– what a never-ending wonder list! The rich cultural landscape and the spiritual heritage of the province was yet another incentive to explore.
Here are 14 of the best places in Kerala and what to do there:
1. Trivandrum/ Thiruvananthapuram
A noisy, chaotic, and industrially overloaded vibe usually dominates old state capitals of India, but not Trivandrum. The city spreads over seven hills, has ample greenery and is quaintly urban. There were a handful of museums, a heritage zoo, a little tourist village, beautiful churches, and other architectural and historical attractions on my list of places to visit in Trivandrum, but I was longing to meet the sea first.
My first memory of rendezvousing with the ocean was made at Shanghumukham Beach. The beach is just a stone’s throw away from the airport and has a fascinating mermaid sculpture, showcasing the artistry of local sculpture Kanai Kunjiraman. The charming Take-A-Break restaurant on the beach and the classic Old Coffee House here are warm and welcoming.
My Takeaways: Tasting ‘Kesari Halwa’ at Coffee House, day-tripping at Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, a tour of Napier Museum, Museum of Natural History and SMSM Institute, sublime afternoons at Valiyathura Pier and Vizhinjam Lighthouse.
The cultural plurality of Kozhikode is fascinating with a number of temples, mosques, and churches around the city. Beautiful wide beaches, the Dolphin’s Point, Tali Temple, and Thusharagiri Waterfalls made it on my list of places to visit from local recommendations. The town has a legacy of the Portuguese coming to India during the Age of Discovery. In Kozhikode, at Kappad Beach, the great maritime explorer Vasco Da Gama set foot on May 27, 1498, as a plaque on a commemorative monument reads.
My Takeaways: Exploring the ancient port at Beypore Beach, bird watching at Kadalundi Bird Sanctuary, shopping at the Pashmina Boutique, Mananchira Square.
To indulge my senses to more of sea bliss, I picked out Varkala for a longer stay. The little sea town has a worldwide fame for all the great variety of Ayurvedic services available here. Besides, some of the well-reviewed yoga schools of India I know of have retreat homes along Varkala Beach. A 7-day yoga retreat in Varkala is irresistibly tempting for those seeking refreshment for the body and mind. On reaching Varkala, I called it a week and checked in at a clifftop yoga retreat home overlooking the azure expanse of the Papanasam Beach. Besides guided yoga and meditation classes morning, evening, and night, the retreat program comprehensively covered all possible interests available in Varkala.
My Takeaways: Ayurvedic hot oil massage and spa with authentic Ayurvedantists of Varkala at the in-house retreat spa, endless strolls along the beautiful Papanasam Beach, one day trip of Sivagiri Mutt, Varkala Temple, Kappil Lake, Janardana Swami temple, visit Ponnumthuruthu Island near Varkala.
The beaches of Kovalam are bustling with activities aplenty. Backwaters enveloped in a cloud of calm to sail through on lazy afternoons, surf and various water adventure sports on the sea, ayurvedic healing with rejuvenating spa and massage, discovering peppy beach cafes and more, Kovalam is of many shades.
I was overjoyed to find a German Bakery outlet, my favorite cafe chain, at one end of the town to brunch every day. Walks along the sea and some early brunches later, I would find something new to do every day. From boating at Vellayani Lake on a catamaran boat with bamboo paddles to swimming, surfing, and parasailing at the lighthouse beach, every day at Kovalam can be a thrill.
My Takeaways: Attending Gramam village fair featuring myriad indigenous cultural items, pleasant evenings at Jeevan Music Cafe and one luxuriant night in a houseboat.
The old fishing town of Kochi has the perfect setting for quiet romances. Chinese fishing nets dominate photographs taken on the beach and the fishermen folks show tourists how to use the huge nets. Legend has it that the nets were brought from Emperor Kublai Khan of China and introduced to the fishermen folk of India in the 14th century. The Mattancherry Palace, exemplary of Portuguese architecture and the Pardesi Synagogue of Kochi remain two of the most photogenic structures I have found on my journey to Kerala.
My Takeaways: Attending a Kathakali Dance performance at the Kerala Kathakali Center in Kochi, exploring the River Road Boulevard at Fort Kochi, and photographing the sun setting behind the mesh of Chinese fishing nets.
My Kerala trip takes a turn for the sublime with Munnar. Oozing freshness and pure bliss, the slopes of Western Ghats in Munnar is as scenic as it gets. Mist covered tea plantations, red-tiled villettes, rare and beautiful flowers blooming in the early winters, and cascading waterfalls– Munnar is truly paradisiacal.
Ecological accommodations, treehouse lodgings, tea estate, sanctuary visits and cycling up to Echo Point to get a view.
This is another little town, where narrow roads go winding down to a blue seashore. I found ferries going to Pathiramanal Islands, a sweet peaceful nook floating on the sea. The Kumarakom Backwaters too were soulful views. There were enthusiastic birders tripping out to Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary and the waterfalls of Aruvikkuzhi in my shared vehicle, something I noted to do another time.
My Takeaways: I had my most serene fill of Kerala backwaters here in Kumarakom.
8. Alappuzha or Alleppey
Nature-loving tourists flocking to Kerala cannot get enough of Alleppey. I spent a few days indulging in the perfect idyll of little out-of-the-way hamlets near Alleppey in Kuttanad. Thick paddy fields, meandering waterways, shadowy coconut tree lanes, undulating green slopes of spice cultivation, duck farming, and fishing areas of Kuttanad are simply charming.
Moving out, Alleppey town has great places to shop for Indian jewelry, typical handicrafts, and artifacts where one can get lots of memorabilia for very little. Luckily I was in town in time for the Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race which is quite a spectacle.
My Takeaways: Exploring backwater haunts, catching the spectacle of snake boat race and sunsets at Pozhiyoram Beach.
Located at the fringe of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Wayanad has Kerala’s most enchanting hills. Sprawling estates of spices and coffee cultivation adorn the slopes. Abundant wildlife, fresh and green landscapes, opportune trekking scopes and unhindered beauty of the wilderness make Wayanad special.
My Takeaways: Backpacking to Chembra Peak, fascinating cave paintings of Edakkal caves, clicking pictures at Neelimala View Point and cycling in the tea plantation slopes of Wayanad
Winter rains of the south had just washed the landscape clean and glistening verdant when I arrived in Vagamon. There was a glow of emerald all around and the pine tree topped meadows of Vagamon looked welcoming as ever.
My Takeaways: Enjoying the solitude of the whispering pine forest thickets, hiking in the meadows, and tea estates around Vagamon
The culture vulture in me was intrigued to explore Thrissur for its glorious temples, basilicas, and palaces to the backdrop of beautiful nature. The striking white pyres of the Basilica of Our Lady of Dolours are eye-catching and absolutely mesmerizing. The Sakthan Thampuran Palace built by Raja Rama Varma is admirable as a museum of rare antiques and relics from the 16th-century state of Travancore. To an art lover’s delight, the Kollengode Palace of Thrissur housing a Mural Art Museum inside is another attraction in Thrissur.
My Takeaways: Extracting the cultural goodness of Kerala touring around museums, palaces, temples, and churches and also a boat ride visit to the village of Chettuva.
In the embrace of verdant forests and soothing lakes, Malampuzha breathes in the freshness of nature. The biggest landmark of nature in the vicinity is the Malampuzha Dam. One day in this little town cradled in the hills is enough to explore the gardens and park of Malampuzha.
My Takeaway: Marveling at the artwork made with wastes in Rock Garden, the flower show in the Japanese Park, and picnics at Malampuzha Dam.
Bekal Fort is truly a sight to behold. The wild waves of the Arabian Sea crashed fiercely against the high stone walls of the fort and the contrasting greenery around make it a visual treat. The view from the top is simply magnificent and the howling wind builds up the exoticness here.
My Takeaway: Striking photographs of the ancient stone turret of the fort against a stormy sea on a rainy day.
Luxuriant green grassy pastures, tea gardens on gentle slopes, and hairpin turn rods give Ponmudi a chilly winter feeling. I ended my Kerala trip here before going back to Thiruvananthapuram.
My Takeaway: Leisurely walk down gentle slopes, watching tea pluckers perform their everyday chores, exploring birdlife, visit Ponmudi Rock, and Mankayam Waterfalls.
From dabbling in the annals of South Indian history and heritage to finding my zen amidst nature so pristine, I found Kerala every bit amazing and my journey here was truly transformative.