Travel Guide to Kerala, India

About Kerala 

The southern Indian state of Kerala is located on a narrow strip of land between the Arabian Sea and the hills of the Western Ghats. Kerala, which is crisscrossed by 44 rivers and countless waterways, is renowned for its lush, verdant landscape which features miles of coconut groves, leafy tea and spice plantations, stunning, palm-fringed golden sand beaches and mist-covered hills.

Often referred to as, ‘Gods own country’, Kerala has in recent years, become a hugely popular tourist destination. Visitors from all over the world flock to Kerala, to explore its many attractions, like ancient temples, churches and palaces and many wildlife-filled reserves that offer excellent opportunities for active pursuits like hiking, boating, and mountain biking. However, Kerala is not all about hectic sight-seeing or exhausting recreational pursuits, for visitors also head to this ‘land of coconuts’ to relax and unwind, as they lazily meander through its luscious backwaters aboard traditional houseboats and indulge in various herbal treatments and therapeutic Ayurveda massages, services which Kerala is especially known for.

Best time to visit Kerala

Kerala experiences a wet maritime climate that features heavy rains during the summer monsoon season (end of May to September). The Southwest monsoon winds usually arrive in Kerala at the end of May, and travel up the Malabar Coast, bringing rain to the western parts of the country. During the rest of the year, a drier tropical climate prevails over Kerala, and the state is characterized by average daytime temperatures that range from 28°C to 32°C (82°f to 90°F) on the coastal plains.

These sultry temperatures necessitate the sporting of cool, comfortable clothing and loose fitting, white garments; seem to be the garb of choice amongst the local people. The summers in Kerala also often feature strong, gale force winds and powerful tropical storms known as cyclones.

The weather in Kerala seems to calm down greatly during the winter months of November to March, when temperatures and humidity levels also dip slightly. Hence the winter months are believed to be the best time to visit this lush, tropical heaven.

Almost all nationalities require a visa to visit India. India only grants visa-exempt access to citizens of its neighboring countries, Nepal and Bhutan. Additionally, India offers a ‘Visa on Arrival’ facility for citizens of 11 countries. Currently citizens of Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Myanmar and Indonesia are eligible for a ‘visa on arrival’ in India. However if your parents or grandparents were born or have lived in present-day Pakistan, you cannot take advantage of this offering.

All other visitors have to acquire a tourist visa from the Indian consulate/embassy located in their home country before embarking on a visit to India. Indian visas are issued for various durations and 10 year visas for India are usually available in the USA, while five year visas for India are often issued in countries like France, Germany, Norway, Spain, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Vietnam.

All visas for India are generally multi-entry and offer a six month entry into India at a time. However holders of these Indian multiple-entry tourist visas are required to leave a gap of at least two months between visits. If you need to go back to India within this two month period, you have to obtain special permission from the Indian consulate/mission located in your home country.

The issue of a tourist visa for a visit to India is subject to various conditions and it is advisable to contact your nearest Indian consulate/embassy for more details. More information about Indian visas can be obtained by clicking the following links:-

http://in.vfsglobal.co.uk/

http://www.indianembassy.org/visa.php

http://www.indianconsulatesydney.org/

Getting to and around Kerala

Kerala can be accessed by its two main international airports, the Kochi International Airport and the Trivandrum International Airport. Both of these airports welcome a wide array of domestic and international air carriers, which make getting to Kerala infinitely easy.

The Kochi International Airport is located in Nedumbassery, which lies 30km (19 miles) northeast of the port city of Kochi (Cochin). This airport is connected by public bus, pre-paid and metered taxis to the main areas of Kochi like Ernakulam, Willingdon Island and Fort Kochi. Many hotels and resorts in Kochi also offer their guests airport transfers for an additional charge.

The Trivandrum International Airport is located at a distance of 6km (3.7miles) from the city of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the state of Kerala. The airport is connected by public bus and air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned taxis to the city, though many of the Trivandrum’s up market hotels also offer private shuttle services for their guests.

International visitors generally use either one of these two airports to access popular destinations around Kerala. Once they arrive in Kerala, they usually hire a private car and driver for their sight-seeing expeditions around the state. Most tour planners and travel agents can help organize this service for you. The list of accredited tourist operators in Kerala can be found by clicking the following link:

https://www.keralatourism.org/classifiedtouroperator.php

Family-friendly Destinations in Kerala

1. Kochi (Cochin)

The port city of Kochi is one the most visited destinations in Kerala. This city, which straddles Kerala’s famous backwaters, encompasses the northern end of a peninsula, several islands and portion of the mainland. Kochi, which is often referred to as ‘the Gateway to Kerala,’ is the largest city and the commercial and industrial capital of the state.

Kochi is blessed with a deep, natural harbor and this geographical convenience has enabled it to function as a major epicenter of world’s spice trade for centuries. Traders from all over the world have been visiting Kochi since the 14th Century and all these various nationalities, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Chinese, the Arabs, and the British, have had an influence on the growth and development of the city. Over the years, Kochi has outgrown its original boundaries, so much so that the city’s confines today encompass various neighboring areas like Fort Kochi, Willingdon Island, Ernakulam, Mattancherry and several other nearby towns and villages.

Most visitors tend to use Kochi as the starting point for exploring the diversity and beauty of the beautiful state of Kerala; however Kochi itself offers several points of interest which are definitely worth discovering before you set off for explorations around the state.

Family-friendly attractions in Kochi

Chinese Fishing Nets- Fort Kochi

The large Chinese fishing nets that line the beach at Fort Kochi are believed to have been introduced to the city by the Chinese traders from the court of Kublai Khan in the late 14th century. These cantilevered fishing nets, which are made of bamboo poles and teak wood, are a much-visited sight in Kochi today. Visitors are advised to visit this attraction at sunset, so that they have the chance to sample the many seafood delights that are offered at the shacks that line the beach at Fort Kochi. The snacks served by these shacks usually feature the day’s fresh catch, which is brought by local fishermen, using these famed fishing nets.

Marine Drive-Eranakulam City

The star attraction in Eranakkulam City is its seafront promenade, Marine Drive, which is also known as Shanmugham Road. The promenade offers stunning views of the harbor and the famed, verdant backwaters and hence is a popular spot for an evening stroll for locals and visitors alike.

St Francis Church-Fort Kochi

The St Francis Church, which dates back to 1510, is believed to be the oldest church in India. The church once contained the remains of the famed Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gama, until they were shipped back to Lisbon, 14 years after his death.

Jew Town and the Jewish Synagogue- Mattancherry 

It is believed that Jewish traders arrived in Kochi way back in 700 BC. The Jewish traders soon began to lay down roots and settle in Kochi. To facilitate this process, the Hindu Rajah (the king) allocated some land to them in Kochi and this area soon came to be known as Jew Town.

Jew Town still exists in Cochin but the city’s Jewish population has dwindled drastically as most of the Jews from Cochin have either immigrated to Israel or have converted to Christianity over time.

The Jewish Synagogue of Mattancherry, which is also known as the Paradesi Synagogue, was built by Kochi’s Jewish population in 1568.  Kochi’s Jewish Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in India. Even though there are hardly any Jews left in Kochi today, this spectacular synagogue, which is adorned with ornate burning lamps and blue and white hand painted tiles, remains as a powerful symbol of their presence during the ages past.

Recommended hotels in Kochi

Vivanta By Taj Malabar Cochin

The heritage Vivanta by Taj Malabar Cochin hotel is located on Willingdon Island in Kochi. This stunning property, which overlooks Cochin’s natural harbor and the stunning backwaters, features a fascinating blend of the old and new worlds. The hotel offers historic dwellings outfitted with all the essential modern-day conveniences like high-speed Internet access and flat screen TVs equipped with premium cable channels. Common facilities offered by the hotel include five restaurants, a bar, a full-service spa, a fitness center and an infinity pool.

Excursions around Kochi

Take a tour of the backwaters

A boat cruise of the stunning backwaters of Kochi should be considered a must-do activity on any Kochi itinerary. Kerala’s famed backwaters consist of an extraordinary maze of rivers, canals and estuaries, which are lined with lush, tropical vegetation. Visitors are encouraged to hire a kettuvallom (houseboat) and spend a few nights, onboard slowly traversing the tranquil backwaters. Once onboard, visitors have the chance to relax and rejuvenate as they observe the native flora and fauna of the region and enjoy delicious, freshly cooked meals prepared by the onboard staffs.  Most tour operators in Kochi can organize a tour of the Kerala backwaters for you, an experience, described by many as being truly unforgettable.

2. Revel in the beauty of Vembanad Lake

The village of Kumarakom which consists of a cluster of islands on Vembanad Lake is a popular destination in the Kerala backwaters. The village is home to a bird sanctuary that spreads over 14 acres and is a favored haunt of migratory birds like Siberian Storks. The sanctuary also offers sightings of various other birds like herons, egrets, teals, cuckoos waterfowls and more.

Recommended Hotel

Waterscapes

This rustic but luxurious resort is set amongst a lush coconut grove and affords stunning vistas of the Kerala backwaters. The guestrooms at the resort are housed in independent cottages which stand on stilts. Common facilities at the resort include a restaurant, a swimming pool and an amphitheater. The hotel also offers services like Ayurveda massage treatments and tour planning. Other services available at the resort include recreational facilities like backwater cruises, boating and fishing.

3. Visit the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary at Thekkady

The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most visited wildlife reserves in India. The park lies at a distance of 120 km (75miles) from Cochin and is located in the Cardamom Hills area of the Western Ghats, at an elevation of about 900 and 1800 meters (3,000 and 6,000 feet).

The sanctuary is home to more than 300 species of birds, as well as many native animals like sambar stags, elephants, wild pigs, mongoose and more. Most visitors combine a trip to Periyar with trips to visit local tea and spice plantations of the Cardamom hills. The best time to visit the Periyar sanctuary is between the months of December and April, when the weather is relatively cool and thus ideal for exploring the sanctuary on foot.

Recommended Hotel

Greenwoods Resort

The Greenwoods Resort is located amongst verdant environs in the small town of Kumily, atop a small hill. The resort offers 26 spacious, well-appointed rooms, which are simply designed, yet comfortable and cozy. All rooms at the resort are equipped with modern-day conveniences like a mini bars, tea/coffee makers, televisions with satellite channels, complimentary mineral water and Wi-Fi.The hotel also offers common facilities like a large multi-cuisine restaurant, an outdoor swimming pool, a recreation center, a mini gym, a craft center and a library.

4. Discover Munar 

Located at the meeting point of three mountain streams – Muthirapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala, at a height of 1600 m (5240 feet) above sea level, the hill station of Munnar was a favored summer resort of the British in India. The hill station of Munar is located at a distance of 125 Km from Kochi and is easily accessed by road from Kerala’s main port city.

Munar offers vast expanses of tea plantations, sparkling waterfalls, and grand colonial bungalows. Since it is blessed with year round cool weather, Munar is a popular destination for hiking and mountain biking.

Attractions in and around Munar include the Eravikulam National Park home of the endangered Nilgiri Tahr (the Nilgiri Ibex), the lake at Mattupetty, the Chinnakanal waterfalls and the Tata Tea museum.

5. Trivandrum/Thiruvanathapuram

Trivandrum or Thiruvananthapuram as it is locally known, is the capital of the state of Kerala. This verdant city which is situated on top of a hill and is overrun by coconut palms was described as ‘Evergreen City’ by Mahatama Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation.

The laid-back city of Trivandrum offers a few notable attractions like the Shri Padmanabhaswamy temple (not accessible by non-Hindus) and the historic Puttan Malika Palace, which once housed the state’s royal family, the Travancore kings. A part of the palace today houses a museum, which offers displays of various heirlooms and artifacts.

Visitors, often use Trivandrum as a transit point en route to the popular beach resort city of Kovalam. The famed beach resort of Kovalam is located at a distance of 16 km from Trivandrum. The resort which features three adjacent crescent shaped beaches has been a favored haunt of international tourists since the 1930s.

The beach at Kovalam encloses a beautiful bay which is considered to be ideal for swimming. However the beach also offers various other leisure options, like herbal and Ayurveda massages offered by the many massage centers that line the beach, catamaran cruises and cultural programs like Kathakali dance performances which are often offered beachside.

Recommended Hotel 

Kovalam Beach Hotel

Housed in a typical Kerala style edifice, the Kovalam Beach hotel is situated amongst lush greenery on gorgeous Howa Beach. This charming and quaint hotel offers simply adorned but well-outfitted guestrooms that offer conveniences like flat screen TVs equipped with satellite and cable channels, in-room safes, tea and coffee making facilities and free Wi-Fi. The hotel is equipped with a restaurant and a front desk that offers services like car rentals, tour bookings and more.

Useful contacts to have on hand while visiting Kerala

Department of Tourism

Government of Kerala Park View, Thiruvananthapuram,

Kerala, India – 695 033,

Phone: +91 (0) 471 2321132

Fax: +91 471 2322279

Tourist Information number: – toll free no: 1-800-425-4747

Email: info@keralatourism.org, deptour@keralatourism.org
http://www.keralatourism.org/

http://www.incredibleindia.org

Emergency numbers for India-

Police – 100

Ambulance -102/104

Foreign Embassies in India

United States Embassy, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2419 8000.

British High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2687 2161.

Canadian High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 4178 2000.

Australian High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 4139 9900.

South African High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2614 9411.

Irish Embassy, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2462 6733.

New Zealand High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2688 3170.

 

 

 

 

 

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