India - Getting to know Kerala

An ancient paradise of spice groves, sultry jungle and golden stretches of sand, Kerala has enthralled visitors for centuries. Having enjoyed generations of good trade with merchants from all corners of the globe, Keralans are welcoming and friendly, and their traditions and cuisine are a refreshing fusion of cultures.

Kerala Backwaters

Kerala is India on a more manageable scale; even the cities are easier to navigate. Cochin in particular is an enticing blend of bohemian café culture and colonial architecture. There's culture of a more spiritual nature, too, and festivals founded on ancient Aryan and Dravidian traditions are still celebrated with noise, colour and fervour. Fireworks, parades with gold-bedecked elephants, and drums beating out hypnotic rhythms are all part of the occasion.

Yoga and Ayurveda also attract many visitors to the region, and those looking for contemplation and rejuvenation find Kerala to be the perfect spot. There are golden beaches fringed with coconut palms, and a watery maze of canals to explore by ancient rice barge. Running down the rear of the state are the foothills of the Western Ghat Mountains, where you'll find atmospheric, cosy homestays surrounded by verdant tea plantations.

Most visitors focus on the southern part of the state, which is also popular with domestic tourists. If you have the time, we would encourage you to head north for a more raw, undeveloped Keralan experience.

Essential Kerala

  • Cochin: British, Dutch, Chinese and Portuguese traders have all left their mark on Cochin, giving it a uniquely welcoming atmosphere. Fort Cochin at its centre has an arty vibe with relaxed cafes, boutique hotels, and a fascinating tradition for kathakali, Kerala's unique dance dramas. It’s ideal for a wander on foot, taking in India's oldest synagogue, pungent spice markets and ancient colonial mansions. Hop on a boat and take in the network of sleepy islands nearby, where you'll see fishermen still using traditional giant Chinese fishing nets to land their catches.
  • Exploring by houseboat: The quintessential Keralan experience is spending a night or two aboard a houseboat, puttering gently around the latticework of tributaries that are sandwiched between the coast and hills. You journey on a kettuvalam, a comfortable traditional boat made of dark oiled jackwood. The main waterways can be busy, so we recommend the smaller boats which can negotiate the narrower waterways and slide beneath low bridges. As you float along at a leisurely pace, you’ll witness local life: people working the iridescent rice paddies, tiny homes and temples perched on riverbanks, fishermen in traditional Keralan longboats.
  • Thekkady: Set amidst the tea plantations of the cool Cardamom Hills, Thekkady is the spice plantation hub of Kerala, producing an impressive variety of spices, with coffee grown alongside coffee. It’s also the gateway to Periyar National Park. A vast expanse of dense hilly forest around the banks of a huge lake, Periyar is a particularly good place to see wild elephant and, unlike many national parks in India, is open all year round. Community tourism is also important to the region, with local villagers offering guided walks within the park and around nearby spice plantations.

Kerala home-from-home

  • Dewalokam: You're likely to come home raving about the charming home-from-home accommodation in rural Kerala. Authentic, welcoming and unique, Dewalokam is the perfect example. The ancestral farm of the Alilakuzhy family, this sanctuary of calm offers yoga and meditation, Keralan cookery classes using organic ingredients from its own farm, and visits to local villages to experience real Keralan life first hand.
  • Amaryllis: If you’re looking for a few days of complete tranquillity in untouched natural surroundings, Amaryllis ticks the boxes. Hosts Ginny and Victor have recreated the old world comfort of a traditional planter’s home, and they love to share it. Think leisurely breakfasts, lazing around the tranquil pool, and convivial dinners on the veranda under the stars. The two Tree Villas are particularly special, with panoramic views far out across the river valley to the mountains beyond.
  • Ayisha Manzil: This cliff-top homestay, formerly the home of an East India Company tradesman, oozes character. It’s easy to while away several hours lazing beside the pool, soaking up views across the sparkling Arabian Sea. Your hosts - Moosa and Faiza - are charming company and are only too happy to take you to the morning fish market and share their secrets of Keralan home cooking. You really do feel like you're staying with old friends.